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New CD offers songs of Christian spirituality with a gritty edge

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[Episcopal Life] Nearly two years after performing at the Episcopal Church's General Convention where his debut album, "Rotation," became one of the Episcopal bookstore's best selling items, Isaac Everett is back with a second release.

"Transmission," a collaboration with lyricist j. Snodgrass, follows the ordo of a mass while telling a story that is rooted in Everett's and Snodgrass' experiences as young Christians in New York City.

"I wanted the songs to portray the urban, gritty feel of the city, the rush of people, the subways," says Everett, a 26-year-old musician in his final year at New York's Union Theological Seminary. "I wanted people to feel the reality of the city grind and experience the presence of Christian spirituality within that."

The album's official U.S. release comes on February 19 when Everett's band and singers will perform at Crash Mansion, an underground music venue in Manhattan's Bowery district.

Unlike "Rotation," which was a project Everett undertook and completed himself with three sets of lyrics contributed by Snodgrass, their new CD was, from the beginning, the product of close collaboration between the two.

Building on the themes that Everett developed in his first, this album of 13 songs combines modern voices of anger, lament, hope and sensuality within ancient structures of liturgy. Described as "predominantly pop/rock," it incorporates influences from jazz, disco, and world music and features a broad range of musicians, including guest appearances by Hip Hop Hall-of-Famer Jahneen Otis and award-winning Mizrahi and Sephardic vocalist Galeet Dardashti.

Songs from the album have received radio play in the United Kingdom and were featured in Trax16, the official podcast of the Church Mission Society.

Everett, an artist-in-residence at the Church of the Epiphany in Manhattan and a co-founder of an alternative worship community, also called Transmission, has a bachelor of music in jazz composition from New York University and is completing a master of divinity in worship and liturgy at seminary.

"My songwriting partner, who was a huge creative force, has written an annotated lyric sheet for the entire album," said Everett, who with his band has just returned from a West Coast tour from San Francisco north to Seattle. "It not only includes background information about the songs, but it also has 'deleted scenes' and other bits that didn't make it into the final product."

With other demands upon their workdays, their creative work, they recalled, was frequently done well into the middle of night. Some songs, they discovered, came more easily than others. "It took only a week to complete 'Canticle of the Sun'," (based on a poem written by Francis of Assisi in 1224), said Snodgrass, 28, also a student and full-time father. "It's an example of what we did very quickly.

"On the other hand, 'The Stranger' (a Eucharistic prayer with original lyrics) took many weeks. We did many, many versions of that song," he said. In the end, Everett, the composer, also scrapped his music and started afresh.

Snodgrass says he wants his lyric's to speak to young people. "I hope they will be able to hear themselves in it and be reminded that Jesus is still revolutionary, still dangerous."

To hear selected songs from the album, including Canticle of the Sun and The Stranger, as well as the annotated lyric sheet, go to http://isaaceverett.com/. "Transmission" is available on Proost, iTunes, and at http://isaaceverett.com/.

Excerpted from God Help Me

Shadow of the pyramid, crack of the whip
Rattle of the shackles as they packed us in the ship
Our history was strangled in the missionary's grip
I earned myself a hanging but I couldn't stop my lips

Lost my land in the wake and my limbs to the mill
Turned to ash at the stake at the inquisitor's will
Dug a massacre-grave I was killed to fulfill
When I shake with the rage and god help me - I can't sit still.

God help me - I can't sit still.

-- Jerry Hames is editor emeritus of Episcopal Life.

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