By Robert Hann
Daniel Lanois, Heavy Sun (Maker, 2021)
Recorded when the COVID-19 global pandemic was on the horizon, but not released until March of this year, Daniel Lanois’ Heavy Sun is a well from which to drink in pre-lockdown positivity.
Here in New Mexico, that positivity is more than welcome. It’s difficult to have substantive hope in the midst of global ups and downs, but we are starting to feel some relief on a local level and there are hints of normalcy returning. And after much-needed recent rains, the desert sun has been presiding over glorious weather, day after day. It seems like it might be time to acknowledge this consistent light and warmth as a symbol of greater goodness, and to let some of that goodness back in our hearts.
Heavy Sun serves as a soundtrack to this attempt to admit the light. It sounds like it was made by musicians on a mission to remind people that joy is real and it is powerful.*
The artistic risk with that kind of purpose is that it can result in sickly-sweet music, or songs too pat to be interesting. Sammy Davis Jr’s ‘The Candy Man,’ Herman’s Hermits ‘I’m into Something Good,’ for example, or songs with titles that begin “Love Is….” Confections, not sustenance. While you can almost hear the grins in the studio passing from musician to musician, with Lanois at the helm, there is no jeopardy of creating music that is at all cloying.
This is partly because his sensibilities are too unique to allow for uninteresting creations: his music in general can sound like it comes from a man with one hand on the reigns of a pioneer wagon team and the other hand on the synaptic panel of an interdimensional spacecraft. On Heavy Sun in particular, this combination results in songs that are immediately appealing for their warm, gospel-inspired melodies and harmonies and which get even better upon repeat listening as the textures and sonic landscapes become more familiar.
It’s also partly because the musicians are too soulful and talented to generate anything less than meaningful music. The roster includes organist and singer Johnny Shepherd, guitarist Rocco Deluca, drummers Kyle Crane and Brian Blade, and more.
But it’s largely because emotional honesty is the essence of Lanois’ creative drive. Project after project, this honesty is the hallmark of whatever sounds he coaxes from the instruments he plays and the people he works with. Heavy Sun has gospel music as its North Star, but the impetus was not to make sounds within the confines of any one particular genre. There was instead a palpable urge to convey the truth that it is possible, now and always, to absorb and reflect goodness.
It is that bright and shining motivation that makes the songs so listenable, and the message itself comes through beautifully. Like the New Mexico sun, Heavy Sun strips away recent darkness. Thank you, Lanois and company, for the reminder: “Don’t let nobody steal your joy from you. Dance on.”
*Shortly after writing this review, I came across the following quote, taken from Lanois’ press release for the album: “Our goal was to be a force for good with these songs. We wanted to remind people not to let the world steal their joy, to remind them that even during a global pandemic, it’s our responsibility to protect our spirits and find ways to keep on dancing, keep on singing, keep on teaching and keep on loving.” To that we might all reply, ‘Amen.’
Robert Hann: firstname.lastname@example.org
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