This is beautiful. Halfway between a Lynchian take on Disney melancholy and a string-soaked Salvation Army-sponsored wake, it’s the sound of hope over despair, of light at the end of a long, lonely tunnel, of redemption and resignation, reflection and retreat.
Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet – Gavin Bryars featuring Tom Waits
It’s an extraordinary recording, originally put to tape in 1971, and although at that point Tom Waits wasn’t involved, serendipity certainly was. The track was created to soundtrack a documentary being made about the homeless people who lived around Waterloo Station and it’s built around the melody of a homeless man, captured Alan Lomax-style singing the titular line over and over again.
As fate would have it, when Bryars played it back in the studio he noticed that the unknown man’s voice was pitch perfect with his piano. Not only that, but his entire vocal lasted 13 bars, Bryar’s preferred length for his planned piece of music.
The first version lasted 25 minutes, the entire side of an LP. With the popularity of cassette tape, later versions grew to 60 minutes. The granddaddy of them all though is the 74 minute version from 1993, the version that includes Tom Waits’ sympathetic and entirely perfect co-vocal, the go-to guy if you’re looking for a wine-soaked hobo to enhance your recording. The first version of the track I heard, the recording won Bryars a Mercury nomination and a new fan in me.
It’s astonishing. The sighing strings and elongated brass lines leave just enough space for the empty sadness to seep through, church organs weaving in and out of the wholly holy swill. Uplifting melancholy in excelsis, Jesus’ blood is of course both religious and metaphorical.
You wouldn’t need to travel far from wherever you’re sitting just now to find a homeless person, an embarrassing and shocking state of affairs in a world where multi millions have been pledged to save the roof of some old church or other in Paris. A quick drop of Jesus’ blood won’t fix things in this day and age, despite what the big man upstairs might have you believe.