Melody never lies: Mark Heard’s music keeps inspiring

Tahoe Onstage

Several artists contributed to the 18 songs on “Treasure of the Broken Land, the Songs of Mark Heard.”

Having never before heard of Mark Heard (bad pun intended), I still fell under the spell of every shining gem found in “Treasure of the Broken Land.”

Heard, from Macon, Georgia, died in 1992 at the cruel age of 41, two weeks after suffering a heart attack onstage. He earned a degree in journalism in 1974, and studied L’Abri, an Evangelical Christian philosophy, in Switzerland. That, combined with his deeply Southern upbringing and innate talent, infused the songs he began to write with unique perspective — to say the least. Heard signed to a Christian label, but his expressions of faith within the joys and sorrows of everyday life projected a wisdom that, as Drew Holcomb observed, were “confessional, not prescriptive.” Thus, he started recording albums completely on his own.

By virtue of the 18 songs presented on this third tribute to him by sundry friends and admirers, Mark Heard was brilliant. Melody never lies. Heard’s songs obviously fit very easily into a variety of roots music modes. Buddy Miller lays out the title song with resolute bluesy twang, while Sean Rowe, in his cool droll baritone, makes “Everything Is Alright” a very different — and riveting — kind of rolling folk. Amy Helm, Cindy Morgan, and Levi Parham turn “Orphans of God” into Band-like splendor, and the North Mississippi Allstars fronted by Rachael Davis, convert the deceptively simple “Freight Train to Nowhere” into a profoundly soulful mountain/blues shuffle.

Rocky resolve and beautiful fluency found equal footing within Heard’s songs, and every artist here sings his praises with incredible, comprehending respect. Dusty, gnarly roots by Matt Haeck; Rodney Crowell’s silkiness; Cruz Contrera’s Southwestern glamour; and Over The Rhine’s wraith-like magnificence also dot the set. Best of the batch? My vote goes to Drew Holcomb’s ironic-twist-filled and infectious jab at “Tip of My Tongue.” But that’s today; tomorrow it may be something else.

Believer Jeff Grantham called on Nashville producer Phil Madeira to get this project underway. Grantham summed it up by saying, “It was concerning to think that the memory of Heard as an artist might fade away completely.” Well, have no fear. The treasures of Mark Heard abound and inspire here.

-Tom Clarke

  • Various Artists
    ‘Treasure of the Broken Land, the Songs of Mark Heard’
    Label:
    Storm Weathered

About Tom Clarke

From pre-war blues to the bluegrass of the Virginia hills, Tom Clarke has a passion for most any kind of deep-rooted American music, and has been writing about it for 20 years. He’s particularly fond of anything from Louisiana, and the 45-year timelines and ever-growing family trees of The Allman Brothers Band and Los Lobos. Tom’s reviews and articles have appeared in BluesPrint, the King Biscuit Times, Hittin’ The Note, Blues Revue, Elmore, Blues Music Magazine, and now, Tahoe Onstage. Tom and his wife Karen raised four daughters in upstate New York. They split their time between the Adirondack Mountains and coastal South Carolina.

2 comments

  1. Excellent review! Mark came along when I needed truth in music….not sappy CCM music. Kudos to Heard, Adam Again, Bill Mallonee, and others who sing their soul 🎸🎶🎶☮

  2. Been a fan of Mark Heard since the 70’s. His albums receive constant space on my stereo and MP3 player. One of the most brilliant of the undiscovered in any genre of music. This new release is great and is only lacking due to the space constraints of a CD-only 18 songs. When it comes to Mark Heard, I am always left wanting more. Well done Phil and company. Well done!

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