A country tribute to Joseph Smith
Nashville album tells the story of the LDS prophet in words and music
Brian Nicholson for Deseret Morning News
Fifteen years in the making, "Joseph: A Nashville Tribute to the Prophet," has been a labor of love from start to finish.
Love of country music, love and appreciation for musicians who have shared their talents, and above all, love for "the men and women upon whose shoulders The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was built," according to Jason Deere, one of the driving forces behind the project.
While serving an LDS mission in Las Vegas, Deere wrote a song titled "Lamb to the Slaughter" about Joseph Smith (who was martyred in a jail cell some years after establishing the LDS Church, which faithful members believe is the restored gospel of Jesus Christ).
Deere always wanted to do something more with that song, "but after I got home I got involved in all the rigmarole of getting my career established in Nashville." (Deere is an award-winning songwriter and producer who has worked with such artists as Reba McEntire, Martina McBride, Jo Dee Messina, LeAnn Rimes, and most recently, SHeDAISY.)
A couple of years ago, Deere was asked to teach an early-morning seminary class in Nashville. "I started reading everything I could about Joseph Smith, and the main characters of the time period began to come alive for me. Then the songs started dropping out of the roof."
He made a demo tape of some of the songs and took it to his good friend and fellow LDS ward member Dan Truman, pianist for the award-winning country group Diamond Rio.
"He gave me the demo just as we were going out on tour," said Truman. "I took it with me. I have four sets of grandparents who lived in Nauvoo, and I had just been learning more about them. I heard these songs, and I sat in my bunk and sobbed.
"Jason and I have wanted to do something together for years; I knew we now had a great place to go."
The project has been an "incredible experience" for both men. "A lot of wonderful things have happened in my life," said Truman. "I've had success I never thought I'd have as a piano player from St. George, Utah. But I can say that the impact this project has had is greater than anything I've done in my musical career. We've felt things; we've seen things happen that we've never seen before."
Their goal is to bring a new dimension to the understanding of these early church leaders, said Deere. "If the Restoration were a statue, we, as members of this church, know the view from the front very well. But every once in a while, we come across a person or have an experience that causes us to take a step around the statue and view it from angles never before seen. And only then does it start to come to life.
"My desire is for us to see these main characters of the Restoration without judgment, with all due respect and with the utmost appreciation for their sacrifice and endurance."
Songs in the collection talk about Joseph's First Vision (in which he said he saw and received direction from God the Father and Jesus Christ), about "The Rising" of the new faith, the persecution of Joseph and his followers, and Joseph's ultimate sacrifice.
There are also songs about the "American Dreams" of emigrants who joined the saints, and about the pain and experience of Joseph's wife Emma as she "never had an ordinary day," and how Porter Rockwell felt in getting to the jail in Carthage, Ill., too late to save Joseph.
One of the album's most touching numbers tells of Hyrum Smith, Joseph's brother. That song was a last-minute addition, said Deere. "We were ready to go into the studio, and I just felt something was wrong, something was missing. About an hour before I was to be there, I sat down and wrote this song about Hyrum."
Truman finishes off the album with the instrumental "Farewell to Nauvoo," which also captures the feelings of the times.
"These are voices we think needed to be heard," said Deere.
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