Linda Allen,
Lay It Down:
Images of the Sacred

(October Rose/BMI, 1996)

The number of musical offerings for women seeking to find their own spiritual identities has been mostly goddess-flavored and pagan in nature. Christian women may now rejoice, whether they identify themselves as feminists, strong women or merely seekers of contact with Deity. Linda Allen's album Lay It Down: Images of the Sacred is truly a blessing. Good intentions are backed up with talented lyric- and song-writing and excellent singing and musical accompaniment. All too often, one or two of these are presented, but are sadly deficient in the other areas. Lay It Down breaks this mold, being well balanced and beautifully realized.

I was not prepared for the CD to be as emotionally exciting and moving as I found it to be. Linda has definitely shown me that it is not necessarily to rewrite old hymns for the sole source of musical communion with the divine. Nor must one be a Christian or a woman to enjoy these inspirational gems.

The first track is the title song "Lay It Down." It has the warm, homey feel of a feminist gospel song done a la John Denver. It is comfortable and easy. Do not be surprised to find yourself singing along on the chorus. None of these songs will be threatening to any but the most devoutly patriarchal Christian, but this gentle feel-gooder is the perfect choice to start this most mystical journey.

"Sometimes I'm Cedar" has more of a universal feel to it, making it abundantly clear that simple truths are often the most beautiful ones and can be shared by all of humanity. Linda has written a deeply peaceful piece of music that is reminiscent of the ancient Irish "Song of Amergin" ... a pure delight poetically as well as musically.

"Sarajevo" changes the mood to painful recognition of the harm people inflict on themselves and each other in the name of their god or any god. Told from a woman's point of view, the music and words are heart-wrenching without trite sentimentality. It is a work of mournful beauty.

On a more cheerful note, "Nothing More Important than Love" is another message song where the moral does not outweigh the medium. Again, its truth is universal and serves to draw bridges for communication rather than set up barriers between diverse beliefs. And she makes the difficulty of doing so while maintaining her artistic integrity seem easy, a sign of a master of the art.

"Love Song for the Hard Times" echoes Jesus' intent when he said that we should love our enemies, explaining in the melodic ballad that love is most needed when it is the hardest to give. This is another folksy tune that will keep the toes tapping as you sing along.

And speaking of toes tapping, give up and start clapping at the very beginning of the next song, "Mary ... Mary." It feels sweet and swingy like a joyous country gospel song as it celebrates the role of the mother of Jesus. It allows her to be a human woman, capable of great joy and reachable, so that we can share in her happiness as we would with a sister instead of portraying her as the distant, unattainable Queen of Heaven.

The ballad "God I Cannot Call You Father" is an explanation of the reasons for the feminist movement within the Christian church. Ironically, it contains the only music on the CD not composed by Allen; it was originally written by J. Wyeth in 1813. While I am not certain, I suspect it to have originally been a hymn praising the Lord God. It is done gently and with great care not to cause undue offense -- simultaneously remaining unapologetic -- yet it is as lovely as any song on this CD. It is directed to Deity, but speaks volumes to those who have ears to hear.

"They're Coming After You" is a warning as well as a protest song. It is well phrased and catchy as it urges people to stand up for each other. The subject matter is quite touchy for some: "They came for the Commies; they came for the Gays / They came for the Blacks and we turned away / They came for the Unionists; they came for the Jews / Soon they will be coming for me; they'll be coming after you / I gotta stand up for you." It is a short song with a hefty message. Well done, as seems to be Allen's trademark.

"Hard Work to Do" continues to look at the less comfortable side of spirituality, urging people of the Christian faiths and other faiths as well to join together to work for a better world. It has the definite feel of a work song spiritual with a folksy edge. It is one of her most motivational works on this album.

"Waiting for the Morning" has the most modern feel to it, and yet, it is the most openly Christian song offered. It is the story of Jesus' ministry told from the point of view of Mary Magdalene. It expressed love, fear, misery, anger, hope and faith in a hauntingly lovely musical setting that glides on the ear. As is usual for Allen, the speaker's voice sings with a sincerity that tears away the superficial, leaving the elegance of simplicity to speak for itself.

"Womanspirit" is accompanied by the sounds of the ocean and at the very beginning seems suspiciously like one of those hokey meditation songs with soft music and the sounds of nature. Which it is of course (sans hokiness), but not as I had expected. It is an enchanting hymn of praise to God the Mother that inspires deep meditation on the nature of this world and the Power that created it without getting caught up in the how's and why's. It is a peaceful, quiet psalm of thanks.

The last offering on the CD is "Lady River," a rollicking and joyous gospel tune that brings to a snappy, happy close this fine collection of sacred images. It recalls the more traditional river songs so often found in folk and country gospel tunes and adds a slightly feminist twist that fits just fine, thank you. The image of Jesus dancing "down by the Lady River" illustrates her ability to combine images of the holy, mixing and matching traditional and nontraditional into a glad celebration of the sacred.

Lay It Down: Images of the Sacred is produced by Linda Allen and David Lange; the latter lent his engineering skills to the CD. It is published in cooperation with The Better World Music Artists and Activists Guild. This is an obvious work of love and is a joyous collection of songs for anyone who wants the freedom of Goddess imagery within the parameters of Christianity. Linda excels at combining the two without being unfaithful to either. This CD will be but the first of hers in your collection as it is mine, unless of course, you have been blessed with having already discovered her work. I am eager for more. Thank you Linda, for showing us that the sacred surrounds us and accepts us no matter what name we call God.

[ by Debbie Gayle Rose ]

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