Mark Heard's last recorded work, the delightful, if ill-fated iDEoLA release Tribal Opera,does not prepare the listener for the quiet richness and acoustic warmth of his latest effort,Dry Bones Dance for his own Fingerprint label. To have a sense for the literate, folkyroots-rock that makes Heard's independent effort required listening, one has to have a longmemory, a penchant for reading album credits, or eyes that can pierce shadows.
Heard was announced to national Christian music circles in 1979 with Appalachian Melodyon Solid Rock, but came into his own with a series of releases on Home Sweet Home - Stop theDominoes, Victims of the Age, Eye of the Storm, Ashes and Light - and Mosaics, his'85 effort for Myrrh. Otherwise, Heard has been most visible as a producer and a songwriter.Guided by keen intelligence and a remarkable melodic sense, Heard shaped words and music thatspoke to and from the human experience, always enriched his Christian perspective andL'Abri-influenced understandings.
Heard manned the boards for the return to form of Randy Stonehill on Return to Paradiseand Until We Have Wings, and is currently recording the new Pierce Pettis effort forWindham Hill. Two of Heard's songs, recorded for his newest collection, were covered on projectshe worked on: Stonehill did "Strong Hand of Love" and Phil Keaggy did "Everything Is Alright"in the Sunday's Child session. Of course the most notable cover of a Heard song wasLeslie Phillips' "Heart of Hearts". Which leads to the most recent Heard sightings. Aside fromsolo and band concerts on his own, Heard could be seen, or more likely heard, supporting SamPhillips on her tour opening for Cowboy Junkies, accompanying her on guitar and staying justoutside of the spotlight.
With little interest from major labels, Heard had resigned himself to not making records, whileworking on the projects of others, until east coast concert promoter/manager Dan Russell setup a festival performance for Heard and suggested putting a band together, to include FergusJemison Marsh (the Stick-player with Bruce Cockburn) and drummer David Birmingham.
Says Heard, "After the iDEoLA project, I had pretty much satisfied my curiosity around thatpolyrhythmic kind of experimentation. I had been doing a lot of solo acoustic shows so Istarted moving and writing in that direction. Most of the songs on Dry Bones Dancewere written for live performance and lend themselves to that. I wanted them to be fairlysimple and straight forward and translatable to acoustic shows".
Heard sees most of the lyrical emphasis in line with his previous endeavors. "Thematically myconcerns have remained fairly consistent over the years, although there are a little moreparticular delvings into songs on human relationships and the like on Dry Bones Dance,without trying to pontificate".
Admittedly, Mark Heard's music has always moved in and out of what fits comfortably insidethe parameters we set for "contemporary Christian music". Although his music is "contemporary"and comes from a profoundly Christian perspective, Heard writes as much from experience asanything. "Someone might classify the songs, as they are apt to do, and say that this one isa theological song or this one is a song about human needs or a love song, but I see itdifferently. The Christian music industry seems to generally encourage artists to be a bucketwith a hole poked in the bottom, so that the water runs right straight through. My approachhas been to not poke a hole in it and just let the water fill up and spill over as it might.A lot of those things (ideas theological and human) are inseparable, it's not like it's everjust a love song."
This is illustrated in "Lonely Road", a song that would tend to be classified in the gospelmusic tradition. Heard notes, "It delves into human relationships as well, not only pointingout what hardships are, compared to what we experience, but pointing out how far we fall shortand the ways in which we fall short, in attitude really, as well as action."
Dry Bones Dance finds the singer/songwriter at the top of his form. He even plays somenifty accordion to add a down-home feel on several tracks. Asked about his development as anartist, Heard responds, "It's a gradual, subtle, growing thing, where a songwriter considerswhat he thinks he's doing right and what he's doing wrong and tries to hopefully expand theone and suppress the other. I think most of it is not something I can quantify, most of it isjust a natural progression".
Brian Q. Newcomb ( CCM - In the News, November 1990 )
Copyright © 1990 CCM Magazine
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