There are good songwriters and great songwriters. And then there are poet laureates -- the songwriters' songwriters. That's Mark Heard, perhaps the most critically acclaimed thinking-person's songwriter to never win a Dove Award.
Not that that surprised or mattered to the enigmatic Macon, Ga., native. He was used to being on the fringes, for it was there he gathered his material like fragments on the sidewalk, crafting sympathetically his characters (often, vulnerably, himself), daring to write and sing about matters few others thought mattered. At least, commercially. In Heard, Christian music never before had -- and has yet to have again -- such a witty and cynical troubadour of hope standing at the cross streets of Faith and Culture. Circling the wagons out of respect for -- and perhaps downright shock of -- Heard's sudden death in 1992 came High Noon.
This 1993 primer on the songwriter's catalog collects 18 works from Heard's final three records -- Dry Bones Dance (1990), Second Hand (1991), and Satellite Sky (1992), critically thought to be the high point of Heard's career -- plus some unreleased tracks.
Lyrically, Heard's writing possesses a keenness in locating brokenness in the artist and in each of his listeners ("Tip of My Tongue"). Yet there is a fervent awareness of the grace and hope found in the dawn of each day. That's the strong hand of love, God, operating in the world, as in "Dry Bones Dance." Musically, Heard's tracks are one part rock, aggressive and tinged with that classic feel that makes Friday-night '80s radio shows a retro treasure. It's also one part Americana, embraced before alt-country was cool, including the occasional use of mandolin, which adds a sense of delight to the treatments. A cultural restlessness is portrayed in uptempo cuts like "Another Day in Limbo." In contrast, a father's touch is evident in other songs, such as the tender "Strong Hand of Love." Heard worked often in community, bringing in the likes of Buddy Miller and the Call's Michael Been to splendid results.
C.S. Lewis once wrote that myths are neither true nor false but are the stories humanity uses to help explain itself and the world around it. This is Heard's music, stories in which people of faith can see themselves, spurring them to wrestle as honestly as he did. High Noon shows why Heard was admired equally by the likes of Rich Mullins, dc talk's Kevin Smith, Phil Keaggy, and the Choir, as well as by folks like Bruce Cockburn, Victoria Williams, and Pierce Pettis -- minstrels all navigating faith and culture.
Gregory Rumburg ( CDNOW Contributing Writer, April 19, 2002)
This brilliant collection from the late Mark Heard contains three new songs, a new version of a previously released cut, plus 13 songs gleaned from his three limited distribution Fingerprint recordings: Dry Bones Dance, Second Hand and Satellite Sky. As an added bonus track, it also includes Mark's rendition of the hymn ''My Redeemer Lives'' which he recorded for the 1992 alternative worship album, At the Foot of the Cross.
The highlights of the album for Mark Heard fans are the three new studio cuts recorded by Mark in 1991-1992 specifically for this album. The somber ''She's Not Afraid'' stands with the best of Mark's character songs as it describes the fears of women who can face the worst problems that life has to offer except for inevitable loneliness of growing old. The song ''No'' with its own introspective regrets, is in many ways a companion of ''Not Afraid'' only written in the first person. ''Shaky Situation,'' an upbeat blues-inflected piece reminds us that even the best of human love is tenuous in a fallen world.
For the many people who did not have access to the previous albums from which the other songs were selected, the whole collection is a gem. (Though indeed that could be said about any collection of Mark Heard's songs). High Noon contains some of Mark's strongest songs including the longing-filled ''I Just Wanna Get Warm;'' ''Love is So Blind'' with its resonance of I Corinthians 13; and the strong statement of faith found in ''Hammers and Nails.'' The album ends with ''Treasure of the Broken Land,'' the most moving and powerful song I've ever heard about death. Mark wrote the song after watching his father die a grueling death in a hospital bed. But when Mark died himself less than a year later, many felt that the song was about him; that in Mark's death this broken land had truly lost a treasure.''I saw the city at its tortured worst / And you were outside the walls there / You were relieved of a lifelong thirst / I was dry at the fountain / ... Treasure of the broken land / Parched earth give up your captive ones / Waiting wind of Gabriel / Blow soon upon the hollow bones.''
Matthew T. Dickerson ( CCM, February 1994 )
Copyright © 1994 CCM Magazine
High Noon ~ Lyrics / DISCOGRAPHY