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Jan Morrison: Remember Me
Sound/Style: sophisticated electronic update on traditional liturgical music
By Steve Morley
(UMCom) -- It wouldn’t surprise me one whit if the verse "sing a new song unto the Lord" figured prominently in Jan Morrison’s life, perhaps as something once spoken over her prophetically. Though some will claim there’s nothing truly new under the sun, even they would have to agree that there are still untapped hybrids of existing musical elements. From them, Morrison has fashioned a highly original work. Behind the simple illustration of burning candles that quietly announces Remember Me, there awaits an engulfing flame of musical invention. To the unwitting listener, the impression made by the opening track is like stepping into a room to discover a choir inside a cavernous monastery that houses a techno-style dance club in the cellar. In other words, it’s a place you’re sure you haven’t stumbled into before, even though parts of it seem oddly familiar.
Morrison draws from ecclesiastical music but splays it open with a host of 20th century instruments and compositional techniques, resulting in a kind of swirling time-sweep that spans several centuries. The intriguing tangle of voices and seemingly opposed sounds and styles has the effect of challenging one’s musical preconceptions. Though the composer herself finds pleasure in everything from Mozart to Alice Cooper, most lovers of liturgical music probably have precious little rock or synth-pop in their CD changers; conversely, most buyers of trance and ambient music may find a solemn choral requiem an as-yet-unacquired taste. Here, the two camps find common ground, unlikely as it may seem. While this is a risky proposition, it yields a cohesive and consciousness-altering end product that has the potential to promote a state of worshipful contemplation, though not by any means a somnambulant, "new-agey" one.
It aids the listener considerably to understand that the seven-track work has a dramatic basis; it was written to evoke the churning mix of emotions presumably experienced by both onlookers and the constituents of Birmingham, Alabama’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church after a 1963 bombing took the lives of four young girls there. The process of walking through and surrendering profound grief and outrage is powerfully depicted in the equilibrium-shattering dissonance that permeates "Jesus Said." Words like "persecution" and "suffering" vibrate horrifyingly, like a soul threatening to splinter as it seeks to die to the urge for vengeance. Subtle permutations of rhythm and meter are employed on "Lament" and "Dwell In my Love," while elsewhere songs change shape entirely, giving way to hypnotic drones and repeated phrases drawn from minimalist composers like Philip Glass. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call this an avant-garde record, save for one exception: Whereas most left-field works often harbor seeds of pretension and detachment that alienate outsiders, this one succeeds in capturing depth and soul. Don’t kid yourself, though – Remember Me isn’t an easy listen, but it is a very rewarding one for the intrepid musical journeyer.
Steve Morley is a freelance music journalist living in College Grove, Tenn.
This review was developed by UMC.org, the official online ministry of the United Methodist Church.