So if Bruce Springsteen had taken the negro spirituals of Seeger’s Civil Rights movement and instead of turning them into carnival folk had taken a left turn and driven them down the Rolling Stones’ blues of Exile on Main Street then this is what it might have sounded like. I have heard people segregate the Spirituals and the Blues. Brian Houston marries them perfectly and then takes his penchant for accessible pop songs with a dirty chunks of blues riffs that make the blues sound never more heavenly and the Spirituals never more earthly.
Good News (Love’s Like A Weapon) is so ridiculously good that you cannot get out of your head hours later when you find yourself still singing it. Gospel Train is in that lineage of Woody’s Bound For Glory down through Curtis’s People Get Ready and directly out of Bruce’s Land Of Hope and Dreams. Yet, if anything Houston does something insane and out does the whole lot of them with a great tune and a more Biblically laid foundation for the hopefulness. Indeed all these songs have underneath their immediacy a deep layering. Joshua, Moses and Gideon as well as Jesus turn up in Bible carrying stories of rocked up hallelujah!
This is the third of a trilogy of Gospel albums that Brian Houston has released and recorded in recent years. They have been a surprising discovery to Houston and an enlightening joy for us all. Joy is the operative word on Mercy. These are songs that enunciate the real joy of a faith in Jesus that is not just the happiness of happenings but the belief that there is help where help is needed. Houston plays these songs in a voice that is strong, yearning and soulful from 25 years on stages across the world. His guitar playing has authority. On Mercy, Houston’s guitar is like a two edged musical sword that cuts through, grabs these songs and shoves them up against your attention. Add to the voice and the guitar totin’ a spiritual belief that can deal with whatever the world throws at him and find solace, strength and saving grace.
Houston says in the liner notes that he can’t find a home for these songs. They seem too holy for the bars and too rocked up and authentic for a Christian circuit, blanded out in sound and lyric. Fair play to his courage to follow his muse whatever the financial failure might bring. If you’re wise you’ll stand with him and give this amazing music that home because it is a cut above the rest in sound, substance and spirituality!