Potter & Clay is the latest release by Winnipeg artist Jaylene Johnson. Last night I attended the CD release concert at St. Margaret’s. My familiarity with Johnson’s music is fairly limited. After last night I will be listening to it a whole lot more. Not only is Potter & Clay musically satisfying, it reaches deep into the listener’s heart. Once there it unsettles and resettles the heart.
Johnson’s spiritual home is at St. Benedict’s Table. As result her writing is rooted in deeply Biblical and theological ways of thinking. We often find ourselves dismissing the Bible as an ancient book out of touch with our world. Johnson’s music helps us to remember that our sorrows, our doubts, and our pain are nothing new. In this she speaks to a world beyond what Jamie Howison, priest at Saint Benedict’s Table, referred to as the “Christian Ghetto.”
Potter & Clay: Let The Silence Speak
At the beginning of the concert Ms. Johnson said that the evening would begin with lament and lead on to hope. Despite that, I would like to jump to the middle.
It’s not usual to start in the middle, yet the song Let The Silence Speak demands it. A song born out of the struggle of Ms. Johnson and her husband to conceive speaks a great truth. The second verse begins:
Sometimes there are no words
No lessons to be learned
People try their best
They only make it worse
We fear silence. We equate silence with uncaring. Yet, as Johnson sings:
Sometimes the hurt is just too deep
Sometimes the kindest words only sound like fingernails running down a blackboard. To sit in silence with those in pain in sometimes the greatest gift we can offer.
From Lament to Hope
It is also through this silence that the move from lament to hope often travels. For while silence often shuts out the voices of those around us, it also ultimately silences our own voice. Our voice of self-questioning and self-accusation. These voices come through in Johnson’s first two songs, Fallin’ and How Long. But eventually the quieting begins. From the hesitant voice in One Tiny Prayer and Find Us, to Let The Silence Speak.
While the CD builds towards, it is not a magical transformation that comes from letting the silence speak. Hope is a hard fought and tenuous thing. Yet, in the words of the title track:
You finish what you start
You finish what you start
You began a perfect work in my heart
You finish what you start.
The rest of the album, Pray, Pray Again, This LIttle Light, Let My Heart Break, Lord of All, Rest in Me (In the Meantime), and I Won’t Be Frightened Any More, give a shape to what such a journey to hope might look like.
Potter & Clay Concert:
One of the reasons that album reaches so deep is the musicianship brought to the album. The concert included several but not all of the many people who contributed to the album. Johnson herself brings a voice that can soar or rumble as needed. She can also be plaintive without falling into melancholy. Kimberley Oost’s contralto voice provides a great contrast to Johnson’s. Murray Pulver, a Winnipeg musician who I think deserves more mainstream recognition as musician and singer, provides great guitar as well as BGVs. At times during the concert I sensed the three of them singing of the same experience yet with a personal meaning for each of them.
The trio of Davis Plett on rhythm guitar, Julian Bradford on upright bass, and Ryan Voth provided solid accompaniment throughout. All the while bringing joyful enthusiasm to their playing.
This is a CD you should rush out and add to your collection. I often say when I’m announcing dinners and BBQ’s at St. Philip’s. Invite your families, your friends, and even or especially your enemies. Music has healing powers, so I would say of Potter & Clay: Buy this album. Give it to your families, your friends, and even or especially your enemies. You never know what may happen.