College students and others who flocked to the popular Bonnaroo music festival last summer were treated to a vibrant fusion of soul, blues and gospel that Mike Farris calls “redemption rock.” The songs to which they frolicked and danced are available on his Salvation in Lights (INO Records).
Some people might remember Farris as the former front man of Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies, a ’90s rock band often compared to Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers. As a solo artist, he has sought to give new life to classic songs of faith, especially those associated with Mississippi blues and Memphis soul.
Salvation in Lights is a traveling tent revival of an album on which Farris comes off as a cross between Robert Randolph and Tom Waits. Get ready for rafter-raising, horn-drenched numbers on which Farris’ bluesy voice is backed by a shouting gospel choir. “Can’t No Grave Hold My Body Down” and “I’ll Take You There” are triumphant celebrations of resurrection life. By contrast, Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” is sung with plaintive weariness that grounds future hope in present sorrow.
Along with such standards, Farris performs five original compositions, songs that make clear he is not only enamored of gospel music but has a deep personal commitment to Christ and the church.
Farris usually plays before nonreligious audiences, often in somewhat rowdy environments. He says he sometimes feels like he is “raiding the attic” of the church, finding great songs that those outside the faith may have missed and offering folks a chance to connect with that music in a way that appeals to them.
To see what he means, listen to his version of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” a bluesy shuffle punctuated by horns and slide guitar. Yes, that’s the same song as the hymn found in our Evangelical Lutheran Worship (773). The next time your congregation sings it, see if anyone says, “Hey, I heard this song at Bonnaroo!”
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