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"Second Hand"
Fingerprint Records 1991
Second Hand - cover

Introspective is the key word describing Mark Heard’s newest release, Second Hand. Yet despite its personal and even vulnerable flavor, the album is neither overly sentimental nor inaccessible, but contains a blend of humor, wit, insight, and profundity that have made Heard one of the most gifted poets of the past decade. Musically, the album is mellower than Heard’s previous release, Dry Bones Dance. It is definitely a rock sound (if one must classify such things) but dominated by an acoustic folk flavor with hints of bluegrass which surface in the fiddle, Chapman stick (played by Fergus Marsh, long-time associate of Bruce Cockburn), and accordion.

The central theme to Second Hand is the passing of time - both the joys and regrets that go hand in hand with the constant motion of the hand’s of the clock. This is captured in the album’s opening cut, "Nod Over Coffee": "The dam of time cannot hold back / The dust that will surely come of these bones / And I’m sure I will not have loved enough / If we could see with wiser eyes / What is good and what is sad and what is true / Still it would not have been enough / Ain’t that the curse of the second hand."

While "Nod Over Coffee" speaks of the regrets of what gets lost and can never be recovered with each passing second, "I Just Wanna Get Warm" speaks of the longing that accompanies that sense of loss - a longing for more than just the passing of time. "All I know is my condition / Is worse than I can tell / The small talk and the slow burn / And I just wanna be healed / I just wanna get well."

But the album is not glum (though Heard accuses himself of glumness more than once); it is filled with a message of hope - a realistic hope based not on the circumstances of the world, but in Heaven; a hope which must be held despite the world’s condition. As he sings in "Look Over Your Shoulder," it is a hope that calls us to deny our despair: "If you must be afraid be afraid of yourself / For being afraid of the fear you have felt / You will weather well in a climate of love / It takes more than your passion and more than your pain / For the rock of forgiveness to melt in the rain."

Matthew Dickerson ( CCM, November 1991 )
Copyright © 1991 CCM Magazine

More subdued than on his zydeco-influenced Dry Bones Dance, Mark Heard returns with an acoustic record. The focus here is on the lyrics, which fall on the ear like music itself. The album is pure poetry from start to finish, with lines like "You see me like a prism sees a candle." The passionate outcry on "I Just Wanna Get Warm" turns into a real outcry at the end of the tune, backed by fiddle and guitar. "Nod Over Coffee" lyrically works like a string of striking images about the mundaneness of activity. "It's Not Your Fault" displays a passionate plea for forgiveness after an apparent explosive outburst toward a loved one. From beginning to end, this record shines light on the self and the human condition with intelligent, well-crafted songs. The Beatles cover "I'm Looking Through You" is perhaps the weakest track. The nice use of Chapman Stick player Fergus Jemison Marsh on an acoustic release complements, rather than detracts from, the acoustic nature of this record.

Mark W.B. Allender ( AMG )

In lieu of the elusive secular contract and any reasonable interest by a major Christian label, Mark Heard has chosen to favor us with another indie project, in many ways similar to last year's Dry Bones Dance. As you might expect, at the heart of Second Hand are Heard's poignant lyrics. The title refers to the movement of the sweep hand of a clock, and how that symbolizes the passage of time. In his liner notes, Heard laments that "a day doesn't seem to have a full twenty-four hours anymore." Images such as "all too soon/clock hands are creeping" and "It's the quick-step march of history" frequently pop up to unify the album's fourteen tracks.

Heard's songs seem to indicate that he's redeeming the time, to truss up family relationships and friendships. Several of the songs on Second Hand including "Nod Over Coffee," "She Don't Have A Clue," "Talking In Circles" and "It's Not Your Fault" draw directly on Heard's marital relationship, while at least one tune, "Another Good Lie," is aimed at helping a child cope with the fact that our world is often not a very nice place in which to live. The closing "The Ways of Men" is probably the best song Heard has released that he didn't write. It's message is simple and direct - "I wish that the ways of men/Were the same as the ways of God."

But "What Kind of Friend" ranks in my mind as this album's stand-out, and one of Heard's all-time greats. Its first verse alone is a classic. "What kind of friend could pull a knife, when it's him or you and his kids need shoes/What kind of friend would do you in, when the bomb goes off and the shelter's his/What kind of friend do friends become, when the musical chairs get down to one/What kind of friend could I become/What kind of friend am I."

Musically, Second Hand is a more low-key affair than the decidedly peppier Dry Bones Dance. The album leans toward country and folk and away from the jangly pop of Dry Bones. Returning musicians include vocalist Pam Dwinell and Stick player Fergus Marsh. Also on hand are The Choir's Steve Hindalong on drums and Bill Batstone on bass. Steel guitarist Greg Leisz adds a wistful, melancholy touch to "Another Good Lie" and Doug Atwell's fiddle distinguishes an inspired cover of The Beatles' "I'm Looking Through You."

Reportedly, Second Hand didn't take much time to record and mix; in fact, the album was conceived of as a sophisticated "demo" to further Heart's quest for a mainstream record contract. And it would truly be a crime if this brilliant album doesn't somehow help Heard escape from the Christian music market ghetto in which many of our more talented artists seem consigned to dwell. In fact, it might be better for Heard if we simply disavowed knowledge of this album's existence until it's picked up by a major secular label. But we would be doing our readers a greater injustice not to tell them about it.

Bruce A. Brown ( Harvest Rock Syndicate, Volume 6, Issue 4 )

Mark Heard was the ultimate tortured genius on the fringes of contemporary Christian music, asking smart, tough questions of real life, betrayal, and broken dreams, and frequently finding equally tough answers. After five or six albums for the CCM market that sold badly and frustrated Mark, and one album for the mainstream as a one-man band (iDEoLA) on the short-lived What? Records label, Mark started his own label (Fingerprint) in the early 90s and before his death in 1992 made three simple, stripped-down, and very literate records that established him as simply one of the best songwriters at work. The best of the three was the mostly acoustic Second Hand, which was also the most intimate, a disc that finds glory in the mundane and speaks to the struggles of faith. The title cut is pure magic - a song that tries to find a way to grasp at the eternal and exquisite we so often miss as we grapple with the temporalities of our lives. "The dam of time cannot hold back / The dust that will surely come of these bones / But I’m sure that I will not have loved enough / If we could see with wiser eyes / What is good and what is sad and what is true / It would not be enough / So we nod over coffee and say good bye." It’s a heartbreaking yet exultant ode to marriage, made even more poignant by Heard’s untimely death in 1992 from a heart attack suffered at Cornerstone Festival. "Worry Too Much" is a litany of the constraints and fears of modern living, personal sins and general malaise, all held together by the richest of metaphors and ripest of imageries. In "She Don’t Have a Clue" Heard laments his young daughter’s beautiful naiveté while in "Look Over Your Shoulder" he fears for her waning youth and bleak future. Heard bravely faces the myths and outright falsehoods that our culture - and sometimes our religious community - has thrust upon us. "Another Good Lie" most literally examines this. Trust me on this one: the older you get, the truer the song. This record is abut, among other things, how "love is not the only thing, but it’s the best thing." The song structures are melodic and instantly memorable without being simplistic or formulaic. With an acoustic guitar always center stage, there are winks to Appalachia, nods to the coffee house scene, hints of country twang, and moments of literate college rock, while Heard’s singing is plaintive and sensitive.

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Second Hand  ~  Lyrics / Credits / Liner Notes / DISCOGRAPHY