Artist: Isaiah Lightning
Album: Starry Crown
Label: Self Released
Release Date: 02/21/2017
This fine album spans genres as wide as God’s creations, and that’s no accident. Blues, doo-wop, a cappella, folk, rock and, yes, gospel, this collection of sacred songs old and new makes every piece sound reborn. Hallelujah!
Frankly, I was hooked from the slide guitar/rock ‘n’ roll opening track, “Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed,” with its throbbing kick drum and irresistible baseline that got my motor running and kept it there. The press release says, “Two hundred years of the gospel tradition—through an overdrive,” but I disagree with everything but the “200 years” part. Traditional implies doing it the old way, and this albums is nobody’s clone. In addition, though there are elements of overdrive on the opening track and the heavy electric blues of “I Can See Everybody’s Mother,” in general, producer Grant Heckman subscribes to the “less is more” theory, and it works well here. (It’s unclear whether Isaiah Lighting is Heckman’s alias or his group (think Ian Anderson and Jethro Tull), but who’s counting?)
Drawing from traditional Christian music to old Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Willie McTell and the Staples Singers tunes, among others, the album is at once fresh and familiar. You’ll find a bluegrass tune or two, like “Daniel in the Lion’s Den,” but elsewhere, Isaiah Lightning adds banjo, then a solid percussion element to the outset of “I Got to Cross the River Jordan,” finally bringing in a twangy slide guitar to keep the momentum going before ending a cappella (an element used sparingly to great effect elsewhere on the album).
The album concludes its journey from that rocking opening to Charles Tindley’s gentle “Take Your Burden to the Lord and Leave It There,” delivered with just a hint of mandolin backing the poignant solo vocals. Starry Crown may not make a churchgoer out of me, but did make me a convert of sorts.