Various Artists

Strong Hand of Love: A Tribute to Mark Heard

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The brilliant Christian folk singer/songwriter Mark Heard died tragically at the age of 40 after suffering a heart attack during a concert on July 4, 1992. The most riveting moments in Strong Hand of Love, the memorial video released to support the tribute CD by the same title, come in excerpts from the final performance. The actual heart attack reportedly occurred some time during the concert, but the videotaped footage of the show's finale "Look Over Your Shoulder" reveals that Heard never interrupted or diminished his passionate performance. "He did an amazing show," remembers singer Pierce Pettis in one of the many celebrity interviews contained in the video. "He was in the back room [after the concert] and people were still stomping and cheering. I said 'Mark, I think they want an encore.' He said, 'You do it.'" Heard went into a coma for seven weeks before passing away, leaving his wife and two children with $80,000 in unpaid hospital bills. Heard's friends and colleagues organized a benefit concert and marketed the accompanying CD and video to raise money for his family. The Strong Hand of Love video clearly expresses the depth of the love and respect felt for Heard by his contemporaries, including tributes by artists like Pettis, Bruce Cockburn, Phil Keaggy, Randy Stonehill, Vigilantes of Love, and Julie & Buddy Miller. But for all of its compassion and heart, it fails to live up to the standard of excellence Heard exacted and deserves. Excerpts from the tribute concert appear to have been taped in a two-camera shoot that results in long, static shots of the stage. Interviews and songs are interspliced in a ragged sequence that sometimes baffles the viewer. At one point, Cockburn's cover of "Strong Hand of Love" plays softly in the background while he discusses Heard's songwriting talents. But instead of cutting to footage of Cockburn's performance at the concert, the song is cut off abruptly in the middle of the interview. The tape's conclusion is equally jarring, following moving testimonials by Heard's friends with the video for "Is it Any Wonder?," one of the peppiest songs from the singer's brief stint in the '80s as the Christian pop artist Ideola. But despite these blunders, the video has many moments of transcendent beauty, thanks in large part to Heard's radiant poetry. The artist's untimely passing adds bitter poignancy to "Nod Over Coffee": "The dam of time cannot hold back/ the dust that will come of these bones/And I'm sure I will not have loved enough/Could never love enough," -- perhaps not. But Heard was certainly loved.

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