Mike Farris, Shine for all the people, pick-of-the-monthHe is as emotional as ever, but this time Farris widens his palette of sounds a little further.

Label: Compass Records
Time: 10 Tracks / 43 minutes

From the beginning of this long-awaited release, the essential, soulful sound of Mike Farris finds new colours to dress up in. He aches on the traditional "River Jordan" as he often does, but this time there are fresh sounds – mariachi horns and spaghetti western guitar.

The heart of this recovering addict's story is the experience of grace. On "Jonah and the Whale," he sings
"I'm going to walk with the father in glory
Go on and tell my story
Tell the whole world about my victory"

Farris sings this with a Booker T. organ chopping underneath and, together with a Muscle Shoalsy rhythm section and a call-and-response of "hey hey hey"s, it all adds up to one of several tracks that feel like revisiting the very best of the 'sixties.

In the UK, while its title probably means little to most, "How it Feels to be Free" is simply the theme tune to Barry Norman's film review show, which is A Very Good Thing. Its rolling piano work – which is what comes through in the instrumental theme – underpins the tune and gives this track more of a jazzy feel.

Other songs celebrating faith include Thomas A. Dorsey's "The Lord Will Make a Way Somehow" and "This Little Light."

But for all the celebration, Farris still remembers his pain and need for mercy. His aching take on Mary Gauthier's "Mercy Now" is one of the collection's highlights; understated, but deeply felt in a Marvin Gaye sort of way.

Farris contributes two solo originals to this set. "Real Fine Day" is an upbeat song to the sounds of a Pops Staples / Buddy MilleMike Farris liver style of guitar, while "Power of Love" feels bluesier and almost swampy.

Throughout the disc, the backing is immense. The horns are punchy, the funkiness of the guitar and up-front bass drives the music forwards and the backing singers' wall of sound is tremendous. This time, there is even a break down that exposes a smooth spell of strings on "Something Keeps Telling Me." With all the rising and falling, there is never any crowding out. Everything is just where it should be, and there are some beautifully tight endings.

In all this, credit to Farris, who has the producer's role here. According to my pair of ears, he has not made a bad track – let alone a poor album – since his essential solo Christian début Salvation in Lights (my 2007 Album of the Year).

He even takes a clunker like "His Eye is on the Sparrow," gives it a rollicking New Orleans swagger and suddenly it is reborn.

What a voice, which passionately conveys both the experience of pain and the joy of release. This is, yet again, great stuff.

Derek Walker

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