I guess every time I have listened to a new Brian
Houston record I have been blown away by the man’s talent. Shelter ups my respect yet again. One great thing you can say about an album from someone releasing them for years is that it sounds nothing like anything he has released before. Having said that what Houston has done has been to bring lashings of everything he has
done in the past and thrown them all in the pot. Then he has added new things like James Brown soul and Black Gospel backing vocals and Rolling Stones guitar riffs. None of these should surprise the fan who has followed his journey from rock to pop to worship to singer songwriter but they bring a new intensity and focus. What the pot cooks up is Houston’s most exuberant and exhilarating record
Even the Christian angle is a new one. Houston was the
boy who exorcised his demons in the Belfast bars on a Saturday night, doing Springsteen leaps across beer filled tables, before leading the congregation in worship on Sunday morning. We have watched the midnight caresses and collisions of those two genres come together in his worship albums like Jesus and Justice
or Gospel Road. The latter of those would indeed be the fore runner to Shelter but was a gentler Gospel sound. This one is rocked up to the limit with guitar playing to die for.
In the world of pigeon holes this one is hard to pitch
in contemporary terms. The Rolling Stones Exile On Main Street comes to mind but Shelter is far more focused and precise. It is as close to the Alabama Shakes as I have heard but much more up front Gospel. It is clearly coming with a Christian emphasis but is too artistically powerful in lyric and sound to be worship and not so much for congregational singing. Then he throws a wee bit of
Tom Waits through a megaphone in and it’s all off in another direction. Too dirty and rough and edgy for the American Bible Book Stores! What Houston’s mix of Saturday and Sunday worlds has always given his work is an earthiness to the theology of his lyrics. Too much modern Christian stuff sits in the sanitised
sanctified sanctuary with no doors open to the dirt and hurt and bloody stains of the streets around about it.
Houston is not afraid of declaring a very committed
belief in God as Lord and in charge but these songs are all coming from a man who has worked and toiled through the week, keeping Five Dollars on his dash board for the needy. He has wept all the way through to Sunday and needs Shelter. This is the work of a man off the street with his guitar turned to ten, who needs to wail to his Lord for some sense of perspective on all that he has seen and experienced from a week in the real world. Brilliant!