When I heard that Sam Rocha, fellow Patheos blogger, was releasing what he called an “Augustinian soul album,” how could I not be intrigued? And so, when I heard that he was looking for reviewers to listen to and blog about the album before its release, I jumped at the opportunity.
The album is called Late to Love, and you can listen to samples on the album website, and it is available for purchase from today on Amazon.com as a digital download.
First, let me say that the album is a delight musically. And since I know there are some whose experience of “religious music” is limited to the sort that has nondescript vocals sung over a small handful of chords played with little luster, then you really must listen to this album. Sam Rocha isn't just a singer and a songwriter, but a talented guitarist, and his playing on this album will be appreciated by all those who like jazz, soul, and related genres – and by anyone who appreciates musical talent no matter the genre.
The album is not an attempt to take the words of Augustine and set them to music. The letter that accompanied the CD made me think that the songs would at least paraphrase The Confessions. If you approach the album with that expectation, then in some songs you will hear clear resonances, but then you will reach the song “Rest in You” and may not know what to make of lyrics like “my heart ain't got no USB” and “Pinocchio is fake, but that nose seems so real.”
But if you approach the album as I presume it was intended to be approaches, as one inspired by Augustine's writings and theology, rather than an attempt to rigidly set Augustine's words and ideas to music, you will find the album speaks to you. As Rocha sings later in that same song “Rest in You,” as something of a benediction, “May the acoustic genius of love resonate in your breast.”
I have focused on “Rest in Love” above because it is the song that most puzzled me with its lyrics on the first hearing. And an album that aims to make you think, and not just lull you into a sense of restfulness, should strike you. It was the fact that the first three songs on the album are so readily accessible to any listener – even one not paying careful attention to the lyrics – that the fourth track jarred me out of my complacency and made me grab the insert to see if I could figure out what the song was about. And when you reflect on the lyrics, you will presumably recognize that here too there are connections to things that Augustine wrote, presented in surprising updated metaphors.This album has both kinds of songs and lyrics, the smoothly accessible and the strikingly provocative. Much like The Confessions, I might add, which likewise contains that which resonates with most readers immediately, and that which jolts and unsettles.
Among the more accessible lyrics, but no less powerful, I particularly liked these lines from “Late to Love”:
And love is just a word, spoken from time to time. But love is a saving verb, transforming water into rhyme…
The insert includes, along with the lyrics, meditations by Eduardo Duarte. These are not snippets of Augustine either, but reflections on the range of human experience, from the way troubadours shape reality, to the nature of the blues.
In addition to the website I mentioned earlier, Rocha has a YouTube channel with songs from the album, as well as other examples of his guitar playing. Have a listen (I'll include a sample below), and then when you find that you really enjoy it, and know you'll need to listen to more and to listen more than once, go buy the album.