Susan Werner

The Gospel Truth

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This popular indie folk-rock performer's first stab at gospel music is so musically compelling and heartfelt that it's literally hard to believe she isn't a theist. But that's the point of this brilliant collection, which may just be the world's first gospel recording for agnostics. The question Susan Werner answers brilliantly, both vocally and lyrically, over the course of 11 songs is "Is there any way to get all this joy, but without the Jesus?" Questioning God has been part the Judeo Christian tradition since the time of the psalmists, but in contemporary American religious culture, fundamentalism seems at an all-time high with exact doctrine taking precedence over honest soul searching. Tapping fearlessly into our national zeitgeist, The Gospel Truth is thoughtful and incisive, biting yet hopeful, drawing from Werner's own spiritual inquiries to engage the "true believers." Her higher purpose in what can easily be enjoyed just for the clever wordsmithing seems to be finding common ground in addressing issues that divide America. Musically, her inspirations run deep into mid-20th century gospel, from the Carter Family and the Stanley Brothers to lesser knowns like Fern Jones. Werner's first stab at seeking truth is the bright and folksy "(Why Is Your) Heaven So Small," and she truly goes to the pulpit on the singalong hand-clapper "Help Somebody" (imagine skeptics being compassionate!). On the choir-backed ballad "Forgiveness," she questions loving one's enemies who support discrimination and oppression. A perfect mix of deep issues and lighter sentiments, The Gospel Truth tackles her own childhood memories of "Sunday Mornings," the importance of conscience "Did Trouble Me" and the superb comic idea of "Our Father, The New Revised Edition." Werner closes with the truly skeptical gospel of "Probably Not" and the slightly more hopeful "Together" which, à la John Lennon, imagines the kind of peaceful world a true Creator God would want (if He exists...). In a black and white world where people think there are only two religious choices (Jesus or atheism), Werner may have to search far and wide for an audience that is both spiritual and skeptical, and thinks a little of both is healthy. The mix certainly brought out her brilliance as a singer, songwriter and social commentator.

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