Behind the Song: Balm for a Cynical Soul

I knew the title for the record well before I had the actual title song written.  I knew the overall arc of the project, and I was starting to line up specific players and planning out studio dates, but I still hadn't written the title track.  One night, there was news of another beheading halfway around the world, and as I processed the news, I wrote:

When the darkness feels like it’s winning
And your fear is stronger than your love
You wonder what kind of world your kids are gonna live in
When everything around you is so far gone

Do you want to hide away
Shut your eyes and numb the pain
Do you want to up and go
Do you need a balm for a cynical soul
Do you need a balm for a cynical soul

I built the rest of the verses off that initial structure, using faith and hope (or my shortcomings therein) as the other anchor points, together with love.  I suppose that first verse is also a less than oblique reference to Derek Webb's "A Love That's Stronger Than Our Fear" off his The Ringing Bell album.

As for the music, this was my first time writing in an alternate tuning (DADGAD).  The lyrics are fairly static--variations on a theme--and so the music is also simple: the acoustic guitar pattern throughout grounded by a steady pulse in the drums, accented by the piano, evened out by the lap steel and a touch of cello for texture.

I'm so, so grateful to have Sandra McCracken's voice on this song.  On her own albums as well as other projects like the Indelible Grace records, her voice can convey such vulnerability and heartbreak and loss, as well as strength and a deeply rooted resilience.  I'm grateful for her friendship, and for the ways that she extends such comfortable hospitality to her community in both life and creative space.

The song culminates with a group vocal swelling up over the last chorus, and I love that I was able to have a few more friends singing with me and contributing to the project that way.  Pretty much everything about this record involved my friends, from the studio spaces and engineers to the players and singers to the design work.  That's what I wanted for such a deeply personal album, and all the contributions and input and patient guidance along the way were so invaluable to bringing this whole thing to life.