Doug Burr, The Shawl

Signed copies of The Shawl, Doug Burr’s third album, will be available at All Saints this Sunday.  But first, please allow me a story:

In January 2008 Martha and I spent a few days in northern California to celebrate of our 15th Anniversary.  Sausalito was our hub, and we rented a car to navigate the coastal areas and wine country. We traveled to Point Reyes Station to sample the fare at Cowgirl Creamery; searched the Lighthouse horizon for Blue Whales; watched, up close and personal, two thousand pound Elephant Seals recently returned from their annual journey to Japan; and journeyed to Rutherford in search of the Holy Grail, Grgich Hills Winery, home of Mike Grgich (the first American to oust the French in an international wine competition). One of the highlights of the trip was something completely unexpected, and something not indigenous to California.  As we dined and drove, and dined and drove, and dined and watched the fog and the lights of the city… a soundtrack emerged as a consistent background to the scenery, the conversation, the get-awayness of it all.  The soundtrack was Doug Burr’s On Promenade.

Since that trip, Doug Burr has become one of the chief voices of our lives.  No exaggeration:  Martha has now listened to Doug Burr almost every afternoon for one year, and counting…

A review from Paste Magazine explains:

"…Exquisitely detailed, slow and deliberate, his songs have as much in common with the literature of Eudora Welty and Cormac McCarthy as with the work of the Americana dimmerati to whom he is often, and somewhat shortsightedly, compared…

…On Promenade is a further elaboration on these themes of birth, death and renewal. The album has a uniquely human cadence to it, beginning with the quietly vesperal "Slow Southern Home" before patiently building into the quickened heartbeat of "In the Garden." The cycle ends with a trio of songs capped by the gorgeous "Blood Runs Downhill," a kind of eulogy for the rest of the album, part gospel, part Alex Chilton at his most ethereal…"

So, you would think I have written this to promote On Promenade, and to some extent, you are correct.  Buy On Promenade.  And rush out and do so if necessary.

But as I stated at the outset, this is about Doug Burr’s latest release, The Shawl.

Doug Burr has pulled off something that one might consider unthinkable, literally.  Doug has selected portions of nine Psalms and set them to music of his own.  And the Psalms are not paraphrased.  And they are not chanted.  He sings them verbatim.  And the sound is his sound.  It was recorded at Texas Hall, Tehuacana (near Waco), in the ruins of the old church.  And it works.  It works.

Psalm 78 now rings in my head, hauntingly beautiful:

“Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.”
“Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.”
“Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.” (hear it, Which We Have Heard and Known.)

When someone presents God’s Word in such a way that it travels under the radar of your “religious consciousness,” circumnavigating the filter that says, “get ready, here comes the Bible,” then you have been dealt a lethal blow to the heart.  These are real words, written by real people (like Shepherd-King David), carried along by God’s Spirit, across the airwaves, through the iPod and into the soul.

But take the word of a publication committed to music:

"…The question is, do Hebrew Psalms really hold up as musical poetry in literally-translated English? Burr's attempt is fairly convincing. The phrasing and meter never sound forced. Musically, Burr seems to tip-toe into the Psalms, cautiously, reverently. The songs move at a shuffling monk's pace, giving Burr time to carefully handle each word. Instrumentally spare, The Shawl is clearly constructed to give emphasis to the words themselves, so it is Doug Burr's voice that is always carried above the various guitars and banjos and atmospheric hum. Burr sings alone without bravado in the calm manner of the old country sound, which is consistent with The Shawl's reverent austerity. The one exception, and most engaging moment of the album, occurs on "The Righteous Will Rejoice," which ends with the grandeur of a full gospel choir…." Rock & Review.

Doug has signed and delivered thirty copies of The Shawl to All Saints.  They will be available this Sunday for $12.