I’ve been listening to Davis Coen’s brand of country blues for a number of years and even managed to play a few tunes on Time For The Blues from time to time. It had been a few years since we had heard from Coen, and while I wondered what he was up to, so many new albums found their way to my desk, that I never took the time to drop him a line.
A few days ago, his latest CD, These Things Shall Pass, arrived from his publicist. That was surprising as Coen has always sent us his material directly. Still, things change and I opened the package to see Coen sitting in front of a church. I recognized enough of the songs listed to see that he had recorded a number of religious songs and wasn’t sure what to think.
I actually put off listening to the album in favor of a couple of other CDs, but my mind kept going back to Coen. What was he up to? His work had always had a spiritual component to it, but a full album of religious material?
Finally, I realized that this was the perfect album to write up for today, Easter Sunday. This is the holiest day of the year for Christians, a day when the resurrection of one individual made the rest of the story miraculous. I don’t know your faith – much of the time I struggle with my own – but I do know that there will never be a better time to examine this album.
Below are my notes, warts and all, from my initial listening to the album. Sometimes I start off in one direction and move in a different one by the end of the paragraph. I guess we all shift our thoughts from time to time. Please stay with me, and see if I discover anything new about Coen and his work.
As you would think for an album dedicated to nothing but spiritual songs, the opening song, Working For Jesus, starts off with some gospel organ. Coen is in good voice and the song is a great way to start off this fascinating album. Will it be straight gospel, or will Coen work in his usual mix of country and blues?
The follow up song, Stand By You, is a Coen original. It starts off simply with voice and piano and a message of support. Some tambourine gives it a revival tent feel, a nice use of percussion before the drums and steel guitar step in and give it that country feel.
Another Coen original, Diamonds In Your Back Yard, follows with some soulful organ riffs. His voice blends beautifully with some solid guitar runs and his lyrics are strong. He reminds us that the grass is not always greener on the other side, that sometimes the very things for which we are searching can be round right in our own backyard. Good song.
The next song, Saint Christopher, starts off with some nice swing piano. I know that many of us have traveled the road with a Saint Christopher medal or small statue on the dashboard to guide us through the great unknown. Somehow, it made us feel better to think that he was watching over us. It’s a fun song that asks the Saint to ride with us again.
The often sung on Sundays classic, What A Friend We Have In Jesus, follows. It’s a straight rendition, with Coen’s vocals expressing all the emotion of a true believer. I don’t know anything about Christian radio, but I can’t believe that this song won’t find its way onto just about every playlist available.
Shifting The Tide starts off with some great gospel piano and Coen reaches into his blues bag of vocal tricks for his approach to the song. It’s a soulful number that unleashes powerful feelings. The backing choir is a nice touch and the song is very uplifting.
The next song, Jesus’ Hand, features a vocal duet with Patrick McClary, who worked as the guitarist for Billy Joe Shaver. McClary also appeared on Saint Christopher. It’s a song you can sway to and the vocal interchange is fun to listen to. There is some solid country picking to go along with the organ. Another fun song.
There are times, usually late at night, when we’ve all looked inward and found ourselves lacking. At those times, it’s easy to plead, Lord, Let Me Do Right. Coen recreates that moment in a searching and humble manner. It’s a powerful song and a heartfelt plea for a man to find his way.
He follows with grammatically incorrect, but still good song, You Are The Onliest (God I Know). If you’ve ever doubted Coen’s blues chops, this is the song that will restore your faith. The sound is stripped down to the barest essentials and relies mainly on the strength of his voice. It’s hard not to feel moved by the song.
The title track, These Things Shall Pass, follows with some of the sweetest guitar work on the album. The song, written by Stuart Hamblen, has been covered by the likes of Hank Snow and Johnny Cash, so Coen is in very good company. It’s a gorgeous tune and one that is given all the respect it deserves. If you enjoy a classic country cut, pull up a chair and feast your ears on this number.
The next song, Lesser Man, continues that introspective feel with lovely guitar work and soothing vocals. One thing about these songs, they are questions of faith – trying to find answers that have eluded us for eons. While some people use their beliefs to be the only way, for many of us we see that many paths can lead to the same destination, and the search is for what is the best way to lead our life, serve our fellow passengers, and what awaits us at the end.
Coen ends this remarkable album with another classic, Old Rugged Cross. His voice is tired but he manages to convey its simple and direct message in a loving manner. It’s a fine way to end the album, a song that many people remember and can find comfort from its well-knows words.
These Things Shall Pass may not be everyone’s cup of tea. If you like your blues heavy, or jumping, or even swinging, you might not get this album. If you like music that searches for answers, that makes you smile while it makes you think, well, this could be an album for you.
I will admit that when I received the album, I wasn’t sure what to think. Before I played it, I had to scratch my head and wonder just what Coen was up to. I’ve heard several of his albums over the years, and was introduced to his music by my colleague, the late Page Wilson, who had one of the best radio shows to ever grace the airwaves.
But I gave it a chance and I’m glad I did. I discovered that Coen’s journey is not so different from the one many of us pilgrims are on. These are songs of faith, and inside faith there is occasionally darkness that has to be recognized and vanquished. It’s never easy facing up to those questions, to see that evil can rest in our own souls and we must find ways to stop that evil and allow light and love to guide our lives.
This is a bold album, a brave album, and I’m glad that I received it and listened to it with an open mind and an open heart. If you think you might be interested in discovering for yourself what Davis Coen has to offer, the best place to start is at his website: http://daviscoen.com/ where you will discover in his own words what his journey has been. Plus you can buy the album and check out his schedule.