"A prophet unwelcome in his home town", (to paraphrase Luke 4:24) might be the most accurate way to describe Mark Heard. Although revered by many of his songwriter peers as simply one of the best, Heard’s music, in his lifetime, never really caught the attention of a large Christian music-buying public. Probably for one simple reason: Heard’s songs are everything that many Christian pop songs are not. They’re emotional, direct, confrontational, cynical, honest - most of which makes them sometimes difficult to listen to and not Top 40 fare.
Orphans is an adjunct to a previous Heard tribute, Strong Hand of Love, a 1994 disc which collected 17 songs and artists. This new double disc builds on that concept by taking 14 of those cuts and adding a staggering 20 more tracks, many of which were recorded specially for Strong Hand and left on the shelf when that project had to be limited to a single disc.
Still, nearly all of the "name" artists from the first disc (Kevin Smith of dc Talk, Ashley Cleveland, Phil Keaggy, The Choir etc.) reappear. Of the artists making their first appearance on this new collection, Pat Terry (a long-time Heard associate) does a heart-rending version of "Mercy of the Flame"; Chicago duo Harrod & Funck (one of the last artists produced by Heard) and the Williams Brothers each capture Heard’s folk-balladeer center with "Worry Too Much" and "House of Broken Dreams", respectively; pop songstress Olivia Newton John puts a dark spin on "Big and Strong"; Resurrection Band’s Glenn Kaiser does a blues take of "Threw It Away"; Carolyn Arends does a delightful cover of "Love is So Blind"; and modern rockers da check-in with a surprisingly subdued version of "Strong Hand of Love".
This fascinating mixture of celebrated performers with lesser-known artists may offer the definitive proof that Heard’s music actually touch a much broader spectrum of people than record company wizards ever realized. Even if you own Strong Hand, this set is still essential.
Bruce A. Brown ( CCM, January 1997 )
Copyright © 1997 CCM Magazine
Perhaps if tribute albums were restricted to saluting artists no longer performing, they would be greeted with more enthusiasm. The Mark Heard tribute Orphans of God fits that hypothetical, as he passed away in 1992 after suffering through 15 years of professional obscurity. Although his music failed to impact the masses, Heard was recognized and appreciated among fellow recording artists. 34 tracks comprise this project, many by his contemporaries but also featuring a surprising contingency of post-Heard artists. This divergent roster is entirely appropriate given Heard's bevy of influences, be they rock, pop, Cajun, Appalachian or country. Mark Heard reached his creative peak during the early '90s on three brilliant albums - Dry Bones Dance, Second Hand and Satellite Sky - and it is from this trio of recordings that most of these songs are derived. Standout tracks include Tonio K's saucy rendition of "Another Day in Limbo," Chagall Guevara's exhaustive anthem "Treasure of the Broken Land," and project coordinator Dan Russell's funked-up take on the foreboding and erstwhile-Cajun "I Just Want to Get Warm." John Austin applys an uncharacteristic Windy City touch to "Big Wheels Roll," and Ramona Silver digs deep into the archives with her sweet a cappella rendering of 1980's "Remarks to Mr. McLuhan." Other notable contributors include Bruce Cockburn, Brooks Williams, Vigilantes of Love, Pierce Pettis, Colin Linden and the Williams Brothers. With the exception of Victoria Williams' ditzy "What Kind of Friend" and the ridiculously out-of-place Olivia Newton-John singing "Big and Strong," there isn't a dud on this two-disc set. So, for those vaguely familiar or entirely unfamiliar with Mark Heard, this is a superb introduction. In a perfect world Heard would be mentioned alongside such influential songwriters as John Hiatt, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, Richard Thompson and Steve Earle. Ironically, it was due to the misfortune of being rebuffed and ignored that Heard's mystique was created and now preserved. There is something perversely redeeming about that.
Dave Sleger ( AMG )
Orphans of God ~ Lyrics / LYRICS TOUR / DISCOGRAPHY