Daniel Lanois – Heavy Sun

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Album cover for Daniel Lanois' Heavy Sun

Heavy Sun is a well-intentioned album that leans on Daniel Lanois’ long history with gospel. The lyrics preach a message of hope and love that cannot be preached enough. The production is beautiful, because everything Lanois produces is beautiful.

The album is boring though. It lacks everything that defines great gospel.

The opening is promising, with haunting organ and impassioned vocals. The second song falters when the background vocals sing a ridiculous arpeggio of the title, “Power.” The word choices in “Every Nation” border on embarrassing. By the time we get to “Tree of Tule” and “Tumbling Stone,” I’m reminiscing about the pre-programmed “songs” that oozed from my local mall’s organ store in the ‘70s.

I listened to an old Smithsonian Folkways gospel compilation to see how it compared. The production is awful but the love and passion and joy in these recordings is immeasurable. A few seconds of “Holy Ghost” by Juanita Johnson and the Gospel Tones or “Jesus Going to Make Up My Dying Bed” by Horace Stott—two very different takes on gospel—and one thing becomes clear: impeccable production cannot compensate for the lack of both gravity and light on Heavy Sun.

Released: March 19, 2021

About Chuck

Chuck is a lifelong music lover. He spent his 20s working as a professional musician before discovering he enjoys listening to music more than playing it. He knows a little bit about most genres, though electronic dance music, rock, and hip-hop are his favorites. Eleven albums/shows that transformed how he sees and hears the world (in order he encountered them): Fleetwood Mac Rumours; Van Halen Fair Warning; The Cure Standing on a Beach; John Coltrane Crescent; De La Soul Three Feet High and Rising; Puccini La Boheme (de los Angeles, Bjorling, Beecham); Everything but the Girl Walking Wounded; Carl Cox, Twilo, NYC, May 2000; Godspeed You! Black Emperor Yanqui U.X.O.; Grateful Dead. Fillmore East, NYC, April 1971; Taylor Swift 1989.

5 thoughts on “Daniel Lanois – Heavy Sun

  1. bobvinyl

    The first song sets a tone that differs from much of the rest of the album and I think that makes it feel like everything else falls short. To be sure, there are some tracks that don’t have much to offer, but I like some of the low-key gospel on the record. I think “Tree of Tule” is pretty creative and I like the reggae-tinged “Mother’s Eyes.” Both are surprises on a gospel record. It’s not a great gospel record, but there is some interesting stuff here that might be harder to like when expecting straightforward gospel.

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  2. Chuck Post author

    Your comment reminds me how important–and how difficult–it is to come into a record with a beginner’s mind. There’s no question that Lanois and everyone on this record are good musicians, and maybe I’m coming in with too much expectation of what I want the music to be rather than listening to it for what it is. You’re right that there is a lot of creativity here in what it means to make a gospel record. At the same time, when I look at reviews of this record, I feel like a lot of prominent reviewers are giving Lanois a pass where they would mercilessly tear apart someone without his name and history.

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  3. bobvinyl

    Some people will get passes. That’s just prominent writers protecting their prominence, I think. It’s human nature a bit. There is definitely stuff on the record that should NOT get a pass (“Power,” for example), but I also think there was some soul to some of the tracks, just not in the way it comes across on the first track. I winder if dropping track 2 would help, because it goes from it’s obviously best moments to probably its worst. Is track 2 just too big a hole to get out of?

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  4. Chuck

    The album completely changes when I drop tracks 2 and 3. (I’d argue “Every Nation” is even worse than “Power,” as much as I appreciate its sentiment.) Going from “Dance On” into “Way Down” emphasizes how unusual these performances are, and the Hallelujah-esque opening chords bring the listener into the transition in a much more inviting manner. I still don’t love the album but at least it’s worth hearing if you drop 2 & 3. (I’m still listening as I write this, I’ll edit this comment if there are other deletions that make the album better.)

    Without “Power” and “Every Nation” the record clocks in at about 34 minutes. Further proof of the Rumours rule (i.e., if your album isn’t better than Rumours, make sure it’s shorter).

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