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What an album! What an eclectic bunch of musicians, singers and songs! All killers! From The Civil Wars kicking it away via the opening track ‘From This Valley’ right on through to John Scofield (Miles Davis) who leads the boys (Al Perkins, Byron House, Bryan Owings and Phil Madeira) through an instrumental version of ‘Peace In The Valley’.

The idea of making an album of songs speaking of the basic theme of ‘What if God is love? And what a great job he has done is that of Madeira’s. Regardless of your beliefs and for those who don’t have any —what a great day it was when Phil was on his boss, Emmylou Harris’ tour bus and a crazy TV preacher came on Satelite TV. It prompted him to try and counterbalance the bad PR God gains from his own flock, and come through with a bunch of people doing their version of what filters through to their respective heart. I tell you now what great music they make. So fine is the project I already have it pencilled in as a Grammy Nomination favourite, such the impact it has made with me. Unlike some tributes or movie soundtracks that have seen music’s finest put their shoulders behind this one possesses a bunch of great new songs.


Madeira plays his part, performing organ, electric, acoustic, bass guitar, Hammond organ, accordion and Dobro as one of the accompanying musicians. Like with those already noted and an additional one brought in by the respective acts —their work is impeccable, to give you an idea of the quality and how the music touched me after being blown away by Shawn Mullins’ stunning ‘Give God The Blues’. Co-written with Chuck Cannon and Phil it is a blast. With the lyrics, ‘God don’t hate the Muslims, God don’t hate the Jews, God don’t hate the Christians etc…., but we all give God the blues’ it offers great, universal wisdom.


Phil had a hand in nine of the songs, one he wrote, himself (‘I Believe In You’) has Bubby Miller performing like his life depended on it. So here you are on the third cut and you already have two out and out winners. It doesn’t there either, since coming up fast on the rails you have big favourites The Carolina Chocolate Drops switch on ‘Lights In The Valley’ and there's Madeira in the company of the McCrary Sisters pour a stiff one via the title-track ‘Mercyland’. Moody, sobering and soulful to the bone it marries the best of Memphis soul and Alabama’s Muscle Shoals sound! Take a bow Phil Madeira for this is a keeper (co-penned with Merrill Farnsworth; the same line-up is also responsible for ‘Light Of Your Love’ performed by Dan Tyminski) and it isn’t on its own.


For immediately followed are songs by two new names to me, Matt Kearney and Cindy Morgan. Oh, boy that Cindy has a great cool singing voice (she is a gospel singer) and with it aided by Phil’s acoustic guitar, seamless harmony vocals and David Mansfield’s subtle fiddle on first hearing it took my breath away! Kearney for his part owns a vocal style of which he reminds me of someone but struggle to partner. Maybe that was meant, since with his ability to press forth, move on he has that of greatness on his shoulder already. Powerful stuff.


Next up is the firm, accomplished voice of Amy Stroup (of the band, Sugar And The Hi-Lows) with ‘Fell Like A Feather’ —her music, like that of The North Mississippi All-Stars (‘If I Was Jesus’) who with Phil on accordion eases majestic fashion along gospel road. Luther’s unshaven, blues tones aided by bass and his brother, Cody’s percussion through it like it was something they rounded their day with. As for Alison Krauss band member and solo act, Dan Tyminski he is found pounding out a soul and not bluegrass feel on the organ (and more) aided ‘Light Of Your Love’.


Finally, there is Emmylou Harris and her ensemble. One that includes the impressive The Civil Wars (after all she lends her vocals to their track) turn back the years to sing ‘I Didn’t Know It Was You’. Madeira also needs complimenting on the production of the record. For the stripped down, spare feel allows players and vocalists alike the room not always handed them. A lesson to everyone listening!


                                                Maurice Hope    

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May 2018

John Prine
67 pts.
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Settling Scores vol. 2

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