Harry Crews’s novel The Gospel Singer tells a sweaty, horrific account of an ultimately doomed religious singer. Daniel Martin Moore’s latest album, of self-penned gospel songs and reworked traditional hymns, reminds me of The Gospel Singer in religious subject matter but lacks the edge and sense of drama that Crews so perfectly captured.
Here Martin Moore, who is signed to Sub Pop and comes from Kentucky, pays tribute to the spiritual songs he grew up with and has discovered on the way. But as Crews shows in much of his work religion is not all harps and angels. Religion can be corrupt, even abusve at times and certainly has drama. There’s no sense of anything other than a dewy eyed tribute to spiritual music on In the Cool of the Day and that is ultimately disappointing for an atheist like me. It is a further disappointment given that earlier this month UK folk act King James so effectively managed to both pay tribute to and question spiritual music on their self titled debut album.
Martin Moore is not trying to be controversial here just pay tribute to music that inspires him and I concede to criticise this album for lacking drama and controversy is probably missing the point. Indeed this rose tinted approach to spirituality will be In the Cool of the Day’s strength for some, but for me it lacks the necessary depth to truly enjoy it.
Having said that Martin Moore’s beautiful singing and genuine love of the music is undeniable. Another is that his own spiritual numbers are indistinguishable from the traditional hymns. This is a tougher gig to pull off than it sounds and deserves recognition. ‘O My Soul’ is probably the standout, written by Martin Moore but as uplifting and poignant to a modern audience as it may have been to a flock of Kentucky churchgoers from the 19th century.
But among others I struggled with are the title track. Musically its excellent, very British folk in style, like a demo from Fairport Convention’s Liege and Leif. But instead of Fairport’s songs about the real life drama of war and love, the track is simply about the garden of Eden, and doesn’t even bother to convey the real drama of that story, the expulsion of Adam and Eve.
It’s a tough ask to expect a secular audience to enjoy an album of hymns and indeed a religious audience to enjoy the work of a Sub Pop artist. He’s secured some support slots on Iron and Wine’s UK tour in 2011, a shrewd move for Martin Moore that will hopefully give him a chance to showcase his musical talent and appeal to the unbelievers out there.
by Joe Lepper