*As final preparations are made for the August 26th release of Green Leaf : The Gospel Companion Vol. 1 album, it’s more than worth noting that this is not an ordinary soundtrack album but, then again, Green Leaf, is far from an ordinary TV series. The series, from Lionsgate and seen on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) just set a network record for viewership and ranks as summer’s No. 1 new cable series both among women and total viewers.
The series revolves around Calvary Fellowship World Ministries, a Memphis mega-church and has spawned a companion soundtrack album, to be released next week by Malaco Records. Malaco, known in the industry as “The Last Soul Company,” was tasked with marketing and releasing the album in light of its truly massive (estimated to be as many as 3,000 individual album titles) gospel catalog that encompasses numerous labels including Savoy, Apollo, Atlanta International, Muscle Shoals Sound and others.
On the eve of the August 26th release of Green Leaf: The Gospel Companion, a closer look at the songs and performances is in order.
The album is unique in that it focuses on gospel music in a very eclectic and wide-ranging way. The show’s main title theme is “The Root” performed by Mavis Staples, the multi Grammy® winner who, later this year, will receive the Kennedy Center Honor. Tim Lauer who has worked with a vast array of artists including Taylor Swift, Cheap Trick, Sheryl Crow, Blake Shelton and Emmylou Harris wrote the song especially for the series. Lauer’s experience working over a range of genres underscores how the sourcing of material for the album is extraordinarily ecumenical.
The McCrary Sisters perform Bob Dylan’s “Ring Them Bells” on the Green Leaf : The Gospel Companion album. The song was originally a track on Dylan’s Oh Mercy album, reflective of his foray into Christian music in the late 1980’s. The connection with Dylan is even deeper insofar as Regina McCrary toured with Dylan for six years, beginning in 1979. The song includes the verses:
“Ring them bells ye heathen
From the city that dreams
Ring them bells from the sanctuaries
Cross the valleys and streams”
One of the tracks on the album that has received quite a bit of attention is “(God Bless The) Broken Road.” The performance features the voice of Deborah Joy Winans who is a key member of the cast in the role of Charity Greenleaf-Satterlee. The song is, perhaps, familiar, as it was a huge country hit for Rascal Flatts in 2005.
“(God Bless) The Broken Road,” earned its songwriters, Marcus Hummon, Bobby Boyd and Jeff Hana — the latter a founding member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band — a Grammy Award in the Best Country Song category at that time. The Greenleaf interpretation is quite a departure from previous versions insofar as Deborah Joy Winans’ reading is soulful and filled with true gospel spirit. Deborah Joy’s performance is reflective of the fact that she is a member of the gospel music’s legendary Winans family and niece to BeBe and CeCe Winans. BeBe Winans, her uncle, wrote “Testimony” which his niece performs on the album. The gospel great co-produced the track with Tim Lauer.
“Say Something” is performed on the album in a spectacularly evocative way by Melinda Doolittle, an American Idol finalist. A Great Big World members Ian Axel and Chad King, with Mike Campbell, wrote it. Their collaboration with Christina Aguilera on the song won a Grammy in the Best Pop Duo/Group Performance last year. The Greenleaf version, produced by Tim Lauer and Lionsgate Television’s Executive Vice President/Music Russell Ziecker, was recorded in Nashville with a choir for the project.
Shirley Caesar, “The First Lady of Gospel Music,” sings the traditional gospel standard “Satan, We’re Gonna Tear Your Kingdom Down” on the Greenleaf album. She first recorded the song more than 40 years ago and has had a glorious gospel career spanning 6 decades and 11 Grammys. The version heard on the Greenleaf album is a truly powerful rendition that was recorded in Nashville and in Pastor Caesar’s hometown of Durham, NC where she runs the Shirley Caesar Outreach Ministries.
“Let Love Find A Way,” performed by Deborah Joy Winans, was recorded in Nashville and produced by Tim Lauer. Lucy Schwartz, who composed the song with John Hanson, wrote “Black Roses” which was heard in the Nashville TV series as performed by Clare Bowen and was a pop and country hit for the actress/singer.
One of the breakout songs from Greenleaf is “The Master’s calling,” again performed by Deborah Joy Winans. Thad Cockrell, the Nashville-based “alt-country” indie artist who is the son of a Baptist minister, wrote the song. Deborah Joy’s rendition, produced by Tim Lauer, has been steadily climbing Billboard’s gospel chart and has become the Greenleaf series’ current audio calling card.
“The Battle Hymn of the Republic” dates from the time of the American Civil War and the Greenleaf rendition featuring Deborah Joy Winans and choir plus an interlude in which the voice of Keith David, in his role as Bishop James Greenleaf is heard. It must be noted that one James E. Greenleaf coincidentally, arranged the arrangement for the original version.
“The Songbird of the South,” Dottie Peoples and her group The Peoples Choice are no strangers to Malaco Records. There are, in fact, no fewer than 12 full-length albums by her in Malaco’s catalog. She wrote, produced and sings “Get Your House In Order.” The track was actually recorded live at Atlanta’s Greater Bibleway Temple Worldwide. It’s as authentic a gospel music experience as one could imagine hearing.
Deborah Joy Winans is featured on “Take Me To The Water,” the track produced by Bebe Winans, Tim Lauer and Russell Ziecker. The song is a traditional gospel standard and, appropriately, associated with the rite of Baptism.
Jason Eskridge and Nickie Conley collaborate on “Blessed/We’re Blessed,” again produced by the Winans-Lauer-Ziecker team. The song, written by Tommie Walker and Fred Hammond is an upbeat, totally joyful contemporary soul gospel outing.
“River” from Deborah Joy Winans is another Winans-Lauer-Ziecker. The track was recorded in Atlanta. The song was co-written by contemporary soul sensation Leon Bridges who recorded it on his Coming Home debut album.
The album concludes with “(We’ll Understand It Better) By and By,” performed by Desiree Ross, the youngest member of the featured Greenleaf cast. Charles Albert Tinley, an African American Methodist minister and hymn writer, known in his time as “The Prince of Preachers,” wrote the song early last century.
Green Leaf – The Gospel Companion Soundtrack Vol. 1 is available on CD and digitally August 26. Greenleaf airs Wednesdays at 10/9c on OWN.