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Writing That Works

The following first appeared in Release, Fall, 1993, and was written by Steve Plottner.

Music on a mission in the midnight hour

The music, born in small and large churches from Boulder to Birmingham, had spilled into the streets of Harlem, Watts, Hough and hundreds of other inner-cities across the continent. The Staples Singers, Otis Redding, Bobby Bland and many others were making tunes that touched the hearts of their listeners' emotions with a sound that came to be known as "soul music." Darrell Brown and David Batteau were among those touched by such songs as "Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay" or "In The Midnight Hour" and their lives were never quite the same. So it was no surprise that decades later the two songwriter/ musicians might dream of undertaking a soul mission. And it was no surprise that the two, both believers and followers of Jesus Christ, might dream of reclaiming that soul sound for His work, reaching with it into the roving masses of hungry hearts that clamor for hope.

But it has been a surprise to both David and Darrell that their album, Soul Mission, has captured the interest of the general public. In fact, Soul Mission and its instigators, David and Darrell, have appeared on Arsenio Hall, CNN ShowBiz Today, CNN Headline News, CCM-TV, TBN and many other shows. The duo is also scheduled for the Tonight Show with Jay Leno in early '94. Yet for all the media hoopla and grass roots enthusiasm Soul Mission has generated, David and Darrell never forget how the album came into being.

"We were at the Melody Lounge," explains David, his words punctuated with laughter, "listening to a band called Chester White and the Soul Pigs. And everyone was having a good time. I began to think of a song that Darrell and I had written a few years ago with Russ Taft, "Table In The Wilderness." And I began to hear it soul-style." Darrell had just moved from Los Angeles and was living in a tin sheet metal construction trailer in the Arizona desert. "I wanted to mix the earthiness of music for common people with the uplifting message of the gospel," he says, reflecting on those first days in the trailer writing songs with David amidst the thick desert dust and scorching sun. The two then discovered what David calls "the adventure of Christ." Neither had any idea just how far that adventure would take them in making the album that is now known as Soul Mission. But the concept behind it became known, by word of mouth, to the musicians and singers needed to record it.

The recording date was set for November 5 through 8, four days in his- toric Capitol Recording Studio B, where the likes of Frank Sinatra, The Beatles and Bobby Darrin had gone before. Booker T. Jones came. He had helped popularize the Memphis Soul sound and his skill on the Hammond B3 organ has been heard on such diverse tunes as Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine" and Willie Nelson's "Stardust." Booker T. was the backbone of the house band at Bob Dylan's 30th Anniversary Celebration at Madison Square Garden and most recently lent a hand to folk artist Shawn Colvin's latest album. Steve Cropper, the guitarist well- known for writing such classics as "Sittin' On The Dock Of The Bay" and "Knock On Wood," joined Booker T. in Studio B. And James Gadson, soul drummer for Marvin Gaye and co-producer of Bill Wither's well-known hit "Lean On Me," arrived. Freddy Washington, bass player for Aaron Neville and Anita Baker, rounded out the band with his deep-groove playing.

Others wanted to join in. The voice on the soundtrack for "The Color Purple," Tata Vega, helped form the core group of singers. The legendary Mavis Staples joined her. And through friends and colleagues the word spread to Victor Cook, Grady Harrell, Lynn Davis and many other singers and musicians that some- thing was happening in Studio B that could not be missed. What followed was an intense four days filled with singing, playing, praying, eating, laughing and crying-a time of relentless joy and struggle-as Soul Mission was recorded live.

"I knew when I heard Tata's voice on "Table In The Wilderness" that an incredi- ble thing was happening," says David Batteau. "The agony in my own life was being healed." God was speaking through the music in ways that reached into the souls of that Dream Team Soul Band assembled in Studio B. "We'll never be the same," both David and Darrell emphasize now, and listeners to Soul Mission will undoubtedly be likewise moved.

Following "Table In The Wilderness," Mavis Staples delivered a stirring lead vocal on "Some Sweet Day," a hopeful tune with infectious horns. "He said two thousand years ago to watch and wait to greet Him/My heart is ready with a shout and I'm going out to meet him" the song proclaims.

Of course, the reviewers and critics might use such terms as "a joyful celebra- tion" or "well-crafted tunes delivered with powerful voices and top-notch musicianship" or "deep soulful stirrings from some of the finest musicians ever gathered." But such hyperbole, in this instance, is better left to the insulated offices of record company executives. This is music that pierces your heart, rattles your walls, and penetrates your will to empower you to a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. And this is music you can use to dance in the streets.

A tune on Soul Mission, "Tear This House Down," indicates the need to break down old walls and build a new founda- tion on Jesus Christ. David Batteau and Darrell Brown have broken down the musical barriers that have separated steeple and street. Perhaps it is, in fact, the reuniting of the joy and inspiration of soul music with the fun and earthiness of the Gospel that is the paradox of this adventure with Christ.

Yes is the answer....

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