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Saturday, 5 January 2013

Mercyland - Phil Madeira Interview

'Mercyland - Hymns For The Rest Of Us' came out last year but for some unknown reason it was only just reviewed in the latest edition of 'Uncut' here in the UK. My musical radar swings into action at any mention of Phil Madeira because he is one of those guys who just seems to be able to do everything - a songwriter, a musician, a producer and an artist in his own right. 

His CV reads like a Who's Who of the music business having had his own songs recorded by the likes of The Civil Wars, Buddy Miller, Alison Krauss, Bruce Hornsby to name a few. He has also worked alongside some true legends like Solomon Burke, Emmylou Harris, Elvis Costello and Buddy Miller and as a multi-instrumentalist he has contributed to many other acts from many diverse stylings - Sixpence None the Richer, Mavis Staples, Julie Miller and The Neville Brothers, again just to name a few. As a producer he was at the controls on one of my favourite albums, 'Floating' by Greg Trooper and many more besides and that includes this wonderful collection of songs by some of the finest folks in the business at the moment. A look at the list of artists on the album will give you a brief glimpse into what Phil Madeira's phone book might look like:

Here's a wee taster of some of the tracks on the album.

The Civil Wars - From This Valley

Shawn Mullins - Give God the Blues

Matt Kearney - Walking Over Water

Cindy Morgan and Phil Madeira talk about Leaning On You

This is an album that forces you to just stop whatever you are doing and just be still. There's not many albums that can do that in this day and age of hustle and bustle. It's also an album that makes you think outside of yourself and to reflect on themes that are other worldly and yet incredibly present. Beautifully crafted songs, sung with deep yearning and passion, gorgeous harmonies, magnificent musicianship (John Scofield's instrumental 'Peace in the Valley' that ends the album has to be one of the most soothing and soul refreshing pieces of music I've heard in a long long time).

So, if you are looking for something a little different and out of your comfort zone, you won't go too far wrong in getting a copy of 'Mercyland - Hymns for the Rest of Us'.

 Phil Madeira and friends, including Emmylou Harris, Shawn Mullins, the North Mississippi All Stars, Buddy Miller, Matraca Berg, and Amy Stroup, pause for a photo with the Americana Music Association’s Michelle Aquilato (far left, standing) and Jed Hilly (second to right, standing) at the Nashville Downtown Presbyterian Church during the Americana Music Festival. (Photo by Erika Goldring)

After listening to the album a few times yesterday I dropped Phil Madeira a line and asked if he would be kind enough to answer a few questions regarding the making of the album and how important the themes of this record are in our daily lives.

S4L: How did the idea of Mercyland come about?

PM: In the wake of the 2008 US Presidential election, I was bothered by the vitriol that came from many religious Americans, of course, nothing new. But being a person of faith, I decided to try and rescue Jesus back from his kidnappers, the fundamentalists. So I asked Emmylou Harris, with whom I play, if she'd be up for making that kind of music.
She said "Yes", and from that point on it was easy to get people involved.

S4L: The subtitle of the album, 'Hymns For The Rest Of Us' is quite interesting because people would normally associate a hymn as something sung in Church, was the subtitle a concious decision to show that Spirituality is something not to be confined to within the walls of the Church?

PM: I suppose you could say that, but really it was my way of saying that the songs were for anyone who feels dismissed, rejected, outcast, or unwelcome in religious circles (most of us, I'd wager).

S4L: How easy was it to get the artists involved in the project? You got some pretty quality folks on the album, some I know you have worked with in the past, did the songs present you with hard choices as to who would sing each one, or did you have it all clear in your mind who would perform the song they recorded?

PM: As I said, once Emmylou was involved, it was easy to invite people, and all but one or two said yes to the project. Most artists wanted to co-write, as I had hoped. Others asked what I had, hence Buddy Miller singing my very old song "I Believe In You", and Dan Tyminski singing "Light Of Your Love".

S4L: I've read a number of pieces that have said that the album is "A reaction to the heated religious posturing prevalent throughout the world today", how vital should spirituality be in the life of folks today?

PM: Whether it's vital to someone or not, in my view, spirituality simply "is". We're all spirit, whether we acknowledge the mystic world or not. For me, it's important to pay attention to my inner life.

S4L: I only have a download copy of the album at the moment (itunes) so I don't have the information to hand about the writers of the songs but I do recognise 'If I Was Jesus' as being one of yours (co-written with Chuck Cannon), are the songs collaborations or have you written them yourself?

PM: Of the 12 songs, I wrote one by myself ("I Believe In You"), 8 with co-writers, and recorded 2 traditional numbers, and one not written by me.

S4L: You have been around the business for many years Phil and have played with a lot of good people (I saw you in Glasgow when you were part of Emmylou's band a few years ago), does the theme of Mercyland help you stay centered and focused on what's really important in life?

PM: Well, now that I have a project called "Mercyland", it's somewhat inconvenient when I'm thinking selfishly. Then I have to remember that I have this idea of Love and Mercy out there in the world, and I need to live it.

S4L: Seeing that you have made an album of Modern Hymns I was wondering if you could mention what your favourite old time hymns would be?...Say top three if possible.

PM: Off the top of my head, how about "Of The Father's Love Begotten", a very old chant, and "In Christ There Is No East Or West", and something very bluesy- "Just A Closer Walk With Thee"… takes me to New Orleans every time!

S4L: Lastly, we like to ask those whom we interview what are the songs that have made up the Soundtrack of their lives. I know you played a lot of music and written a lot, but are there maybe five songs that you constantly go back to that you would say that they have a vital place in your life and journey?

 (Click on the links to listen to Phil's Choices)

Blind Willie Johnson- Soul Of A Man
Jimmy Martin- My Walkin' Shoes Don't Fit Me Anymore
John Scofield's "Hand Jive" CD
Bob Dylan- It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry
The Beatles- all of it.

Phil is already pursuing the recording of a new solo album. If you would like to support that click on the KICKSTARTER LINK for Phil Madeira.
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