Before we start, here’s a video of Mary Gauthier singing the title track from her 2005 CD Mercy Now for anyone who has never heard it. It’s a simple and beautiful song that serves as a prayer of sorts for peace and tranquility for the soul.
Now that you’ve heard that, I can tell you the genesis of this post started last August.
I had just received a copy of Mike Farris’ CD Shine for All the People a few minutes before I went on the air with The Americana Pulse at WDVX. I played Farris’ version of Gauthier’s “Mercy Now” in my new music segment a couple hours later and immediately started getting a response from listeners. One person in particular was nearly in tears as he told me how much Gauthier’s original song had meant to him and how great it was to now hear Farris’ very different take on the tune.
After that phone call, I had this exchange with Farris on Twitter.
That bit about being part of the song’s story is what stuck with me.
I got the chance to ask Farris what he meant by that when I interviewed him for Three Songs that September. He spoke of what the song meant to him in his life. Of finding the song at a time when he was losing his father and how it helped him and his family during that process. Of how it prepared him to accept what was about to happen. Of the “mystical, spiritual power” of songs to come into a person’s life when they are most needed. Of how they can sometimes speak to, comfort, and console the listener in a way that mere words from a friend or loved one cannot.
The thought of his version of the song going into the world and doing for someone else what Gauthier’s original did for him seemed to overwhelm Farris a little bit. I got the sense, though, that the possibility of making that sort of thing happen is part of why he recorded it to begin with. He wanted to ensure the song had a second life, and that it’s story would continue. The way he did that was by taking Gauthier’s sparse framework and adorning it with a full band arrangement with heavy Gospel influences. If the song was not a prayer before, it is now. A celebratory prayer at that.
Now that Farris has won a Grammy for Best Roots Gospel Album for Shine for All the People, it seems almost certain the story of this song will continue.
I’ve been thinking about all this for a while now, but what really brought it back to me a couple of weeks ago was hearing local artist John Myers perform yet another version of the song on WDVX’s Tennessee Shines. He continues the story of the song by infusing a soulful rhythm & blues energy all his own into the tune.
Here’s a video of The John Myers Band performing the song at WDVX back in 2011.
I have always said that the best songs tell a story. Of course, many of those songs have their own stories as well. That’s why I started the Three Songs interview series, and part of why I started writing again. I wanted to get at and share some of those stories. Maybe someday I’ll get to ask Mary about this song as well.