The Cathedrals: A retrospective in three parts (I of III)

I’ve been thinking a lot these past few days about a song the Cathedrals recorded fifteen or so years ago for their 25th-anniversary celebration album. The project as a whole is by no means the Cathedrals’ best studio work (that would be High and Lifted Up). The 25th anniversary thing is, overall, serviceable at best, except for an old, short tune near the middle called “Life Will be Sweeter:”

Jesus said it; I believe it:
Life will be sweeter some day.
I’m gonna trust him, never doubt him,
No matter what the folks may say.
CAN’T TURN AWAY FROM HIM LIGHTLY.
[Trammel’s line:] Because the joys of heaven I’ll miss.
[Ensemble again] And I will live on, up in glory, after while, after while.

I first “reheard” this song on my way back from Chicago in the summer of 1999 about 3:30 in the morning somewhere in the middle of Wisconsin. I do this every so often, rediscover a tune buried on a CD somewhere that I’ve forgotten about and then, having “found” it again, will play it until I sing it in my sleep, wake up with it on my lips and in my ears, reflexively hear its arrangement, solos and modulations and harmonies in my head without intending to, get perfectly sick of it even though I can’t seem to hear it enough. Anyway, this tune opens with four bars of Gary Lunn bass and Lari Goss keyboards in a lilting, soothing simplicity that the tune sustains, like a meditation, throughout. I thought then in the middle of all those dairy farms, as I do still now, that that style and form are quintessential Cats: four voices, a bass and a keyboard. I cried in the car, listening to it over and over, laughing out loud at the stunning brilliance of the keyboard-and-bass bridge of 16 plain, classic bars … no notes more complicated than basic quarters and eighths, just tastefully played with the expert sense of rhythm and beauty that transforms the tune from the mundane world of a dashed-off anniversary sale-bin special to something nearly supernatural, yet so palpably real.

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