Friday, May 20, 2011

Review: Daniel Martin Moore - In the Cool of the Day

By Jon Stone | @jwstone - April 24, 2011

grass|roots ep. 8

I've been writing this review for the last three weeks. Or at least I've been thinking about writing it. It's taken me some time. And while it isn't that Daniel Martin Moore's In the Cool of the Day is earth shattering or game-changing, it is, for me at least, a very important record. In the Cool of the Day, put out by a relatively new artist on a big indie label, is a decidedly religious album. Even though My Morning Morning Jacket's Jim James (the record's producer and contributor) glosses and universalizes the specifics of its unmistakable Christian message (see below), Moore is unapologetic in his mission: curate, update, and re-imagine favorite gospel and "spiritual" standards (and write a few new ones as well).

Here's the blurb from James in the record's press release:
It’s a spiritual record that may have come from growing up in one particular tradition, but is built to speak to the heart of any soul, from any tradition or walk of life, to say that God, while sometimes called by one particular name, is anywhere and everywhere one could ever want “God” to be, present always in the love we give to and receive from those around us.
I find it refreshing that Sub Pop and Jim James understand that endorsing a religious record for its artistic and even spiritual merit does not undermine their credibility. As part of a largely secular audience that buy records from Sub Pop and other indie labels, I also understand their desire to couch the release of such a record in terms that make it accessible to a wide potential audience. They make it clear that In the Cool of the Day is a record that can be enjoyed by believers and non-believers alike as far as the notions of God and Jesus can be understood as metaphors for love, service, and overcoming selfishness. I'm OK with that.

That diplomatic gloss, however, is telling of a moment when tension between the faithful and those who have thoughtfully put faith aside has reached new highs even while secular humanists and Christians (and other religious folks) seem to have much in common (arguments of science and politics usually but not necessarily aside). And while the issues that separate and vex them are often important, a little understanding would go a long way.

Maybe that's what I like so much about Daniel Martin Moore's record. It is a rational declaration of faith. One that, because of its context and company with other Sub Pop releases as well as Moore's activist ethos coming off the Dear Companion project (with Ben Sollee), manages to celebrate the traditional even while it implicitly calls for greater human empathy and progressive, ethical tolerance.

All that said, In the Cool of the Day is a truly lovely record with a Sunday-afternoon sweetness. While the entire record could be described as hymnic, those hymns bounce around between utter solemnity and jazzy, celebratory swing. The album begins with several songs in the latter category including "In the Garden" and "Up Above My Head", both of which remind me of songs folks might want to clap their hands to after a rousing sermon. But it's the solemn songs on the second half that resonate and demand a searching of the soul. "Softly and Tenderly" is an almost whispered plea for spiritual reconciliation: "Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling... calling, 'Oh children, come home!'" "Cool of the Day, "It is Well With My Soul," and "Set Things Aright" all touch on the classic Christian themes of repentance, peace in spite of suffering, and victory over death -- all with soft and smart accompaniment: sometimes just Moore and a piano, but often embellished with fiddle, banjo, and bass.

So, with hopes of acknowledging (and counting myself among) Christians still interested in Jesus' advocacy for compassion, tolerance, equality, and peace, I can't think of a more appropriate record than In the Cool of the Day for Easter.

Hope yours was wonderful.


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