Susan Werner,
The Gospel Truth
(Sleeve Dog, 2007)

Susan Werner says the origin of this CD lies in a suggestion she received that she record a blues album. While researching, she came across a record by Blind Willie Johnson that, she felt, transcended blues, going into gospel blues. She liked what she heard, and then she attended the Chicago Gospel Festival and got her head turned around.

The result? The Gospel Truth, a CD Werner describes as the most American of Americana projects, is an examination of faith and doubt, a gospelish record by a self-confessed skeptic. "My personal doubts aside," Werner says, "religion gives us much of our energy as a nation, and is a source, I think, of the beautiful naivette we have abut being a force of good in the world." In the press release that accompanied the CD, a song is described as perfectly capturing her desire "to have all the joy without the Jesus."

That attitude, I believe, is what's wrong with the record. It is a gospel record by an artist who will not commit to the music. As a result, it has a studied, objective tone to it, as though the material has been observed, not lived. In her singing and writing, you feel Werner holding back, keeping that detached edge.

Don't get me wrong; I am not saying that one has to be a Christian to sing about faith and God and I am certainly not criticizing Werner's beliefs -- or lack of them. What I am criticizing is her remoteness from the project. To get an idea of what I'm talking about, listen to the opening cut "(Why is Your) Heaven So Small," which is superb. Then listen to the ones that follow. You'll ask yourself, as I did, why Werner is so present and committed to the first song and so absent from the rest.

[ visit the artist's website ]

review by
Michael Scott Cain

29 December 2007

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