lenny

This is an older review of the Lenny Smith’s Who Was and Is and Is To Come, originally posted on this site in July of 2012:

It’s been an odd couple of weeks, what with hurricanes sweeping through cities and towns, politicians battling over the fate of the world, rumors of wars and so forth.  Waters have risen and subsided.  Lights have dimmed and become alive again.  Doomsday prophets and naysayers abound, as they always have, and more will come I’m sure.

Amidst it all, there arrives the new Lenny Smith album, Who Was and Is and Is To Come (released on Great Comfort Records), a mix of 60s style folk and rock tunes inspired by the artist’s lifelong search of an unknown Creator.  In stark contrast to the turmoil of the times, Smith enters quietly.  Gently fingerpicking a sparse folk melody, drawing upon his many hours of scripture reading, Smith sings the first song he ever wrote,

Then I saw a new Heaven— and a new Earth, the New Jerusalem.

As a young seminary student in the 1960s, Smith would hide in the closet at night, writing songs and reading scripture.  The strange poetry of Revelation and its pronouncement of a New Jerusalem struck a deep chord.

God Himself will wipe every tear from their eyes

and death shall be no more.

As the album progresses, we get glimpses of Smith at different stages of his journey, from the theology obsessed student putting melodies to the psalms (“As a Doe Longs for Running Streams”), to the wizened grandfather looking back on all he’s learned (“All the Earth Worships You”).

You are the love I feel inside

And Your love won’t be denied…

Smith’s words are void of brimstone.  His ruminations are simple, sometimes hushed, as he beckons to hear that still, small voice.  But the journey isn’t just about introspection.   It’s about celebration.  Along the way, his many friends, children and grandchildren join in, elatedly plucking strings, playing keys and shouting along in joyous unity.

There is something very fitting about it all.  While so many are calling down fire from heaven, eagerly awaiting a swift vengeance, Smith is gently up turning evidence of his Maker in the quiet spaces; beneath sheets of darkness and layers of corrosion; in the trees and rocks, and inside of his very soul.  “The earth”, he writes in the liner notes, “knows something”.  These are words of reconciliation and healing that we could all use right now.

Who Was and Is and Is To Come is available at http://lennysmith.bandcamp.com/

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When I look at what is happening at Great Comfort Records, I am reminded of the gospel record labels of yesteryear—those many companies that sprang up in the early days of vinyl, in the inner city side streets of Cleveland and Chicago and elsewhere, where families and congregations were making vibrant spiritual music with what appeared to be little regard for the mass market process. They didn’t always have the most polished sound, but what they did have in abundance was plain, unfiltered joy. Great Comfort’s newest release, Sing to Your Mountain by Rachel, continues that same tradition of exuberant melody makers wrecking joyful havoc upon unsuspecting listeners. Rachel and friends are making music for the sheer joy of worship. A member of brother Daniel’s Danielson Familie, and daughter of hymnist Lenny Smith, Rachel has found a middle ground between the former’s unusual arrangements and the latter’s love of Biblical poetry. Her songs are full of peace and longing and aggression. Her whispering voice carries each tune, drawing wayward melodies back to earth, lest they escape into the stratosphere. It’s worship music, sure, but not in a genre-type sense. It’s worship music because she sings with conviction and fire and of course, plain, unfiltered joy.

You can find out more about the artist and purchase her newest release at greatcomfortrecords.com