My Soul Among Lions

Band Embarks On Huge Psalter Project

There are some artistic endeavors whose scale and ambition are so big that by virtue of size alone they have the weight of glory. Even if the project is never finished it is beautiful because of its brute beauty and valor and act, because of the fire that breaks from us in the attempt of the thing, and the fire we hope will break from God in the achieve of the thing.

This is what attracted me, several years ago, to Sufjan Stevens 50 States Project. After Greetings From Michigan he vowed to release fifty albums on one theme, one per American state. He put out the glorious Illinois, then desisted. As deaths on the beachhead go, this was not the most glorious, because as his endeavor died Stevens applied the morphine of “It was a stupid idea anyway.”

I’m a sucker for this sort of thing. The bigger and more unrealistic the task, the more the romance of it seizes me. And I have been seized once more.

A group of fabulously foolhardy musicians from Indiana have performed their own vow, to write a brand new Psalter in the musical style of the American folk tradition. They stand now at the foot of the mountain, having released this year the album Psalms 1-10. They are My Soul Among Lions, and before they are done their hair will be peppered and salted, their beards grizzled. My soul is among lions: and I lie even among them that are set on fire, even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword.

There are two things that I love, yea, three I adore. Vaunting aspiration; fearless endeavor; the Word of God for the people of God. I’m pretty excited about this thing. And what’s especially cool about this is that they’re at the beginning of the project. Next year they plan on releasing Psalms 11-20. This project is at once more glorious and more modest than Sufjan’s, which gives me confidence that in fifteen (twenty?) years I will indeed be listening to My Soul Among Lions’ new rendition of Psalm 150 as I dandle a grandbaby on my knee.

This being at the beginning of the project is not only cool because we will be able to follow their feats from the start, but because we can pitch in right now and participate in the project ourselves. That’s right. I am here to tell you that contributing to this Kickstarter is a worthy deed, patronage in the old style. I am here to urge you, as lords upon the earth, to help make a thing of beauty for the people of God and the Lord of Heaven and Earth.

My Soul Among Lions hopes to release the next album in 2017. Check out some of the music I’ve posted below, then hop over to that Kickstarter and kickstart ‘em.

Their dominant style is the acoustic guitar driven, cymbal heavy, banjo-whacking, soaring vocals variety of folk music that has predominated recently, but they keep themselves grounded with the judicious use of keyboard and electric guitar. They have succeeded in creating a very American style, but perhaps the most American thing about their music is lead singer Jody Killingsworth’s textured voice, which has a touch of Ozarkian twang to it. I love the pieces that strip down to just his voice and a guitar. There are also tracks in which the whole group’s vocal harmonies make you long for friends of your own with whom you could sing Psalms in warehouses.

Check some of these out.

This is "You Are My Shield (Psalm 3)". The harmonies at the beginning of this are joy-making. The Psalms in the series (there are several bonus tracks and a few preview tracks from the next album out, so I can a "with most") are faithfully paraphrased, if you will allow to employ such an expression. But Killingsworth and the lads will often go on doxological excursions in the middle or at the end of many of the songs. In Psalm 3 there is a departure that reminds us of Stonewall Jackson. Perhaps history enthusiasts will hear it.

Christians who have been in churches where the Psalms are sung frequently know the power of music to imprint Scripture in us. It is so powerful that snippets of spoken Psalms I memorized have been replaced the verses riding on great Genevan jigs. And new lines are always dancing out of my heart into my mind at unexpected times. All this to say that catchiness, y'all, is important. And this version of Psalm 1 is so catchy that it has supplanted the "Bless Now The Man Who Does Not Walk" version that was Psalm 1 for me for ten years. I have to work hard to push through "How Blessed Is The Man" to get to "Bless Now The Man"... And that's pretty powerful, y'all.

Finally, we have a preview video featuring only a guitar and that Killingsworth voice I'm so fond of. This is Psalm 13, which is from the album you could be a part of. (Remember the Kickstarter?) 

These preview videos they've released have whet my appetite for more folksy Americana Psalms. Man. When I think about this next album being for Psalms 11-20, I remember all the beautiful phrases that could be included in this thing, "why do you say to my soul flee like a bird to your mountain?, if the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?how long wilt thou forget me, O Lord, forever?the fool hath said in his heartwho eat up my people as they eat breadthe boundaries have fallen for me in pleasant placesat thy right hand are pleasure for evermorekeep me as the apple of the eyethe Lord is my rock and my fortressthe heavens declare the glory of God, in them hath he set a tabernacle for the sunthe Lord hear thee in time of trouble". Yeah. Feeling exalted. Already.


Joffre Swait

Joffre Swait grew up in three countries, for no particular reason beyond his dad's wanderlust. He blogs and vlogs as Joffre The Giant, but when writing about serious times in serious places he uses his real name. Like here, for example. Joffre Swait really is his real name, because this is a serious website. He and his wife Kimberly used to own a used bookshop in upcountry South Carolina, but now they live as missionaries in Porto Alegre, the capital city of south Brazil's gauchos, with their five kids (Renata, Joffre, George, Ward, and Mara).