Friday, August 10, 2007

Birthday Music: Pierce Pettis

Some of you noted that I recently celebrated my 34th birthday. And what did I get for my birthday? Music, of course. But since I like to have the CD case and read the liner notes I didn't just download it off iTunes; thus it has taken a few days for me to select, buy, and receive in the mail my music. Now that I've had a few days to listen to it, I'll give you a little taste of what I got.

Making Light of It

Okay, by a show of hands, who reading this has ever heard of Pierce Pettis? Who has heard his music? Chances are, you have heard his music but didn't realize it was his. Besides his own recording career, Pettis has spent the better part of the last thirty years writing and co-writing music that other people have recorded. From collaborations with the likes of Art Garfunkel to the numerous covers of his music by artists like Joan Baez, Sara Groves, John McCormick, Geoff Moore, Andrew Peterson, Randy Stonehill, and Dar Williams, it is quite likely that you know his music. His most famous song, originally recorded for this album, is "You Move Me", which was picked up and taken to #2 on the country charts by a little-known fella named Garth Brooks.

Pierce Pettis at the RymanWhile his worldview is decidedly Christian, and much of his music deals with spiritual topics very openly (see the songs "Miriam" and "Absalom, Absalom" on Making Light of It), Pettis has not sought to be a part of the CCM "establishment" - he's not on a Christian label, has no real air-time on Christian stations, and does not tour with Christian concert series. Honestly, most CCM stations probably wouldn't have him, anyway. His music deals very openly with life - in joy and sorrow and with his own divorce; he has a propensity to play at bars (hey, they'll let him on stage) and even for some light drinking during a set. These things do not tend to endear an artist to the general CCM audience.
My motive – that is, if I have a motive, is to write songs that connect people to themselves and to each other. I’m no sage: the best thing I can do is remind us all of what we already know.
So says Pierce Pettis, and his music reflects it. From the start of Making Light of It, his somewhat gravely voice is earnest in singing, as though trying to draw our attention in to what we've ignored or forgotten. Opening with a song from mentor and friend, the late Mark Heard, "Satellite Sky" is a cry for peace in a world afraid, remembering the time of Sputnik and the fear and competition that came with it. (Pettis opens every album with a Mark Heard cover, ever since Heard's death in 1992.) "My Life of Crime" is a reflection of Pettis' life as a musician on the road, with lines like "I have held some people up / I have robbed the stage / With my trusty six-string / I have made them pay". The song "Miriam", which you can listen to below, is about Mary - that pregnant teen who brought into the world a savior. ("Miriam" and several Pierce Pettis songs can be downloaded for free from Paste Magazine. Just enter your e-mail. If it takes you to a page that streams the songs but won't let you download, go back an try entering your e-mail again.)

Pierce PettisThe rest of the album is one good song after another. Of special note are the above-mentioned "You Move Me" and "Absalom, Absalom", a lament on the lessons a son learns from his father, from the perspective of David seeing his rebel son dead. Pettis closes the album with "Love's Gonna Cary Me Home", looking forward to when our giants are slain but remembering that "life is a song / it's not very long / so I sing it that much louder". Really, a good reminder to us all to do what we are here to do without hesitation or fear.

If you get a chance, take a few minutes and check out Pierce Pettis. He's a great writer, has a compelling voice and delivery, and is well worth a listen.

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erin said...

I heard Pierce Pettis at Andrew Peterson's Behold the Lamb of God concert at the Ryman last Christmas, and I really liked him. Thanks for sharing that song!

Anonymous said...

I love Pierce Pettis's music. I've seen him a couple of times in concert, including when he played with Andrew at the Ryman. (Did you know that he has also co-written with Andrew?)

Pierce's voice has a nostalgic quality to it, for me. Listening to him somehow reminds me of who I want to be, makes me remember not to get too caught up with what is around me now but to remember that "eternity is in our hearts".

euphrony said...

I knew about the Andrew Peterson cowrite. He has too many to list. Unfortunately, he does not seem to get to my part of Texas much, so I've not had the chance to here him live.

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