SALT LAKE CITY — Jason Deere wants others to know what being a missionary means.
He wants them to know the deep meaning of the work missionaries do. He wants them to know why members send sons and daughters out into the world by the thousands. And he wants them to "understand that there's a mom who gets down on her knees for one of those missionaries every night."
Deere is an accomplished musician, but also a returned Mormon missionary himself. It was during his mission to Las Vegas that he walked out to the porch with his guitar one night and wrote a song about the Prophet Joseph Smith Jr.
That was the beginning of the Nashville Tribute Band, a group of professional artists coming together to share their faith through song.
Deere, a songwriter and producer who has written for bands such as Lady Antebellum and SHeDAISY, was well-entrenched in his music career when, in 2003, he found himself writing songs about the Restoration of the gospel. He then teamed with Diamond Rio keyboardist Dan Truman to produce an album in 2005 called "Joseph: A Nashville Tribute to the Prophet."
The musicians were unsure how the music would be received, but the album was "for us, if for no one else," Deere writes on his website.
Several other musicians have joined the effort since then — some of whom are not even LDS — and the Nashville Tribute Band is about to release its third album. This time, the focus will be on missionary work.
"We do hope that young men and young women who hear these songs want to run to their bishop and tell him the exact date they want to turn in their mission papers," reads the inside cover of the new album, "The Work: A Nashville Tribute to the Missionaries." "But that is not why we made this album."
"I thought I was making something that was for the Saints," Deere said. "But it's more important to me that my next-door neighbor understands what this means to us."
The band intends the album to give a personal portrayal that helps others understand missionary work.
Deere referred to the first album as a "complete accident," albeit a positive one. He received a particular touching letter from a missionary in New Jersey about the "Joseph" album, saying how helpful it was.
According to Deere, the letter also said, in effect: "When you make your next project, don't forget us missionaries."
The band's second album, "Trek: A Nashville Tribute to the Pioneers," was released in 2007. Deere says they develop the album themes according to what they feel they should do at the time. He took inspiration for "The Work" from his own mission service and that of other members of the band.
"I think it's really timely," said Katherine Nelson, an LDS singer who's also known for her portrayal of Emma Smith in "Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration" and "Emma Smith: My Story." Nelson is featured in two songs on the album, including a solo, "Bless My Son." She has toured with the band for the past couple of years.
According to Nelson, Deere has a knack for heartfelt expression.
"I think what's so cool is that he can play this song for the first time, and it resonates so deeply in your spirit like it's something that you already knew," she said.
The Nashville Tribute Band has compiled an impressive group of performers, starting with Deere, who has written and co-written songs like "Love's Lookin' Good on You" for Lady Antebellum and "Don't Worry 'Bout a Thing" for SHeDAISY. He has also written songs for LeAnn Rimes, Jessica Simpson, Little Big Town, The Wreckers and Jim Brickman.
"From the world's perspective, what Jason is doing probably doesn't make economic sense … but it makes perfect sense for who he is," said Jan Hemming, publicist for the Nashville Tribute Band.
Truman helped Deere produce the album and performed in a few of the songs. Rising country trio Due West, which tours with the band when able, contributed to many of the songs, namely one titled "Work." Chad and Ben Truman, who make up the pop duo Truman, are also part of the band, along with guitarist and producer Ron Saltmarsh.
Other contributing artists for "The Work" include The Jets, Dyer Highway, David Osmond, Ryan Innes, Gale Mayes, Billy Dean and more. Many of the recording artists and some of the singers are not LDS, but Deere points out how respectful they are and is pleased with the collaboration.2 comments on this story
Deere also welcomed the chance to collaborate with Michael McLean in writing four of the songs. He called McLean's album "Celebrating the Light" his mission album, finding it helpful as he served.
The Nashville Tribute Band will perform an official release concert for "The Work" at the Sandy Amphitheater on Aug. 4 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $10 and $12. For more information about the concert, visit www.sandyarts.com. For more information about the band and other concerts in their album tour, visit nashvilletributeband.com.