Grace Notes is a weekly exploration by Jason Morehead of signs of common grace in the music world. We hope to alert you to wonderful music, some of which will be spiritual in nature but all of which will be unique and worthy of your attention. Each week we will share brief reviews of albums worthy of your attention and maybe a video or two.
Back in the early ’70s, Gavin Bryars was working on a documentary about the London homeless. The film crew had made a number of recordings of various street folks, and one of them — that of a homeless man singing a simple hymn in a broken, faltering voice — caught Bryars’ attention. That simple recording serves as the basis for Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet. Here, Bryars loops the recording and, over the course of 74 minutes, slowly layers piano, strings, and other vocals (including those of Tom Waits) on top of it. This may sound rather simple and straightforward on paper, but the composition’s effects are anything but. Indeed, the piece becomes exponentially more affecting with each passing minute. There’s something deeply beautiful in the man’s broken voice, Bryars’ arrangements are moving without ever being saccharine, and it’s impossible to not notice, and not be affected by, the apparent irony of a homeless man singing, with such humble sincerity, “Jesus’ blood never failed me yet.”
I was reminded of Bryars’ Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet when I saw the following video on Facebook.
It’s of A Winged Victory For The Sullen, a new project by Dustin O’Halloran and Adam Wiltzie (Stars of the Lid, The Dead Texan), performing a version of the piece at a recent concert. If you’re a fan of lush, drone-y, classically influenced ambient music, then you’d do well to pick up a copy of their recently released self-titled debut. You can listen to one track from the album — the elegiac “Steep Hills Of Vicodin Tears” — below.
You can also watch more from the concert that featured the above “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” cover here.