Rediscovered: I Rest My Case at the Cross

The Perrys. “I Rest My Case At the Cross” (Changed Forever, Daywind, 2002).
Songs become lodged our lives and memories often because of serendipity. Sometimes by fortuitous happenstance, psychological or emotional conditions align with the lyrical content or melodic feeling of a song in such a way that the music and the moment merge and enable spiritual insight, or shore up depleted reserves of spiritual strength in times of crisis. These moments don’t happen very often, and they tend to arrive unannounced, so that one is left mildly flummoxed by the influx of … something. Call it what you will: grace or redemption, call it the spirit of peace that passes all understanding. Call it the presence of God. It is what brings us back time and again to gospel music, finally. And when it moves, we are left passive before its force, a force that can ride on the leading edge of the simplest note, the most subtle phrase of a song.I was put in mind of all this by the magnificent gracefulness of “I Rest My Case.” The song, like so many of Kyla Rowland’s (i.e. “His Response” or “One Scarred Hand”) contains a nearly indescribable essence to it, suggested by the lyrics and their insistence on the reconciliation made possible by grace:

There’s a covenant sweet
It was written for me
It’s a promise that I could be healed
From all my sin and my shame
Even heartache and pain
It was signed and confirmed on a hill.

But you really must hear these lyrics as sung by the Perrys if you’re to begin to understand the power and force of this song (for a clip of part of this verse, click here). A while back I suggested that the next step for the Perrys was to acquire a definitive sound of their own and sustain it. This song is precisely what I’m talking about. The harmonics and intonation are so tight, the contours of their voice, the texture of the ensemble possess a richness that deepens and authenticates the lyrical idea. Listening to this song, I know why people bankrupt themselves, bust up relationships and ruin family ties to get on a bus and sing for a pittance … all for the sake of just the chance to recreate for yourself the feeling that this song stirs up inside you.

It doesn’t hurt of course that the song is about as well produced as any you could ask for (for this, we have Wayne Haun to thank). There’s nothing here that, by itself, will knock the top of your head off. But the restraint, the creative discipline and the careful attention to subtle accessories are enough to make me giggle like flirtatious schoolboy. Two examples. First, the little flute accompaniment after the word “shame” in that first verse. It floats in, as if form an open window somewhere, softening the confession of failure in the lyric, humanizing it … and just as quickly it drifts away. It’s thievably good.

And second, the trio lines in the next verse:

Don’t feel sorry for me
When you see I’m in need
There’s a judge who grants mercy and love
All my burdens he lifts
All my sin he forgives
Every trial is won through the blood

For a split second, the vocals almost sound like Gold City in their finer moments of years past, but this is mellower, more considered sound - not least of all because the arrangements use Tracey Stuffle’s bass voice in creative harmonics. By avoiding the easy applause lines of pot-bellied low notes, the arrangement is freed up to bring Stuffle’s lines into more of a baritone’s range, generating a beautiful, mellifluous sound (this happens in a few key places on the Life of Love project as well). The harmonic repositioning of Stuffle’s voice gives just the right amount of intimacy to the trio lines and produces just the right emotional pitch to the lyrical idea of struggle turned to strength through unmerited favor.

The Perrys are not art-house singers. No producer who throws flat thirteens and sharp nines at them is going to get back the kind of sound he or she had in mind. Leave that to First Call, or the Ruppes. The Perrys are the combined effect of their unadorned voices, and they rise and fall not on the complexity of the music but the indelible imprint of genius stamped on the lyrics and arrangements they sing. “I Rest My Case” works - like all the Perrys’ best music - because the music (the arrangements, the accompaniment, even to some extent the lyrics themselves) get out of the way of the vocals. Once the Perrys are allowed to inhabit their songs, the instrumentation can return and build in layers of aura and intensity behind and around the voices. The result is that you rarely ever say, “Wow, that was a great arrangement,” even if it was; or “The Perrys really sang that bridge well,” even if they did. Instead, you may - if you’re like me - find yourself slightly stunned, left dumbstruck with little else to do but pull off to the side of the road or sit down or stand up, hit the play button again, and mutter silently to yourself: “My God, what a song.”

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