In 1972, Ray Charles released A Message From The People, a collection of ten songs chosen by Charles to express his sentiment on the social issues surrounding him. They range from traditional songs (“Lift Every Voice and Sing,” “America the Beautiful”) to the contemporary songs of the time (“Heaven Help Us All,” and “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” to name a few).
Fast forward to 2018, and the Band of Heathens have put their own spin on this seminal but somehow forgotten album with A Message From The People Revisted (BOH Records). Obviously, their decision to cover this album is intentional and timely, as some songs relate to the current social divide and injustices taking the forefront today, while others offer a sense of solace, hope, and promise.
The album kicks off with “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which opens the album with an immediate feeling of optimism. Ed Jurdi’s smooth vocals are the focal point here, with Jesse Wilson’s bass lines propelling the track forward. A personal favorite and arguably the “dark horse” track of the album is “Seems Like I Gotta Do Wrong,” originally recorded by The Whispers in 1970. It tells the story of a narrator who, despite his best efforts, feels like an outsider in society—he sees injustice occurring all around him, leaving him to believe he has to “do wrong” in order to bring attention to the inequalities he sees. The similarities of this narrative and what we see the media discussing today are too apparent to ignore, but I’ll leave that discussion for you and your friends on Sunday, when you may be watching NFL players participate in or react to the National Anthem. Musically, the track is highlighted by some somber guitar and organ fills, courtesy of Gordy Quist and Trevor Nealon.
The standout track for most, however, is the closer “America the Beautfiul.” The Band of Heathens even calls Charles’ version “the most powerful message and perfect coda…the apotheosis of soul.” It’s clear that they approached this cover with a high amount of respect and reverence, as they stay true to the gospel-esque approach Charles took, with Richard Millsap’s drums escalating towards the end of the song.
The substance of these songs is generally quite heavy. Yet, due to delivery of these songs—whether in a roots rock, funk, or soul format—makes it something that you can easily put on during a lazy Sunday. Catch their tour dates here and grab your copy here (all proceeds go to some charitable organizations the band has chosen that focus on social justice).