The Gospel Truth
is that agnostics can worship just as hard as their devout God-fearing counterparts. According to her official bio, Susan Werner
came upon this album after a friend remarked on gospel music, "Is there a way you can get all this joy, but without Jesus?" If ever there was a challenge that Susan Werner was up for, this is the perfect one, as her latest effort could testify.
(Why Is) Your Heaven So Small?
The whole album starts out with this little gem, approaching evangelicals in a melody reminiscent of country spirituals, complete with killer peddle steel solos. Werner sings, "If God is great and God is good, why is your heaven so small? ... I would not be surprised to learn someone somewhere excluded you."
Later, to the tune of the Lord's Prayer, she returns to the satirical assault on evangelicals with "Lord, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from those who think they're You." This is quite possibly Werner's greatest hymn for anyone who doesn't fit into the Evangelicals' idea of a pure being. She sings of bringing "compassion to every corner of the world," advocates for women religious leaders, for building schools and digging wells, careful to make the distinction between people who tow the line and people who do good in the world, regardless of their religious affiliation.
Someone Will Be Upset
Susan Werner Live in Concert in Seattle© Kim Ruehl, licensed to About.com
There's bound to be individuals and groups who will not embrace Susan Werner's agnostic gospel hymns, those who wish to claim that she's making a mockery of the Church, and those who will just write this record off as leftist propaganda for spreading an agenda of Godlessness.
In fact, Werner does an incredible job of satirizing gospel music, paying intense tribute to the form, complete with call and response-type songs like "Did Trouble Me" and the cheeky, honest "Probably Not." She sings about missing the tradition of going to church on Sundays, despite the fact that the sermons no longer resound with her ("Sunday Mornings"). She sings of a world that both longs for a God and cannot bear to blindly believe.
She sings as much of the difficulty of being agnostic as she sings of the absurdities of blind believers. In "Sunday Mornings," she talks about the preacher accusing her of asking too many questions, and her retorting with "Why do you ask so few?"
It can easily be argued that, God or no, what's most important is to do good in the world while you can; or, as Werner sings in "Help Somebody," "When you've got enough to give away, [that's] the only way to live." She's not really slamming the church and religion altogether as much as she seems to be calling out for a stop to all the divisiveness in the name of God.
In this time of arguments between religious scholars and the nonbelievers, and friction between religious doctrines and their followers, Werner emerges with a clear, honest voice, vying for what's really important: Helping one another and bringing peace to the world. What's more, she does so with the same unbeatable craftsmanship and lyrical mastery of all her prior underappreciated recordings.
Good Music, Period
Whether or not you agree with Werner's agenda on this record, and there does seem to be one, you've got to admit her versatility as a songwriter is immense. The Gospel Truth
is as full of catchy toe-tapping agnostic hymns in the style of old-school Americana gospel, as it is replete with introspective singer/songwriterly ballads and jazzy folk tunes. All in all, there's not much to not love on The Gospel Truth
(Why is Your) Heaven So Small?
Did Trouble Me
I Will Have My Portion
Don't Explain It Away