Last week, my songwriter friend — Michael Kelly Blanchard — blew into town. He calls himself a "hired gun." The term fits. Not only because he loves old Westerns but because he rides in like a gunfighter in a Marty Robbins ballad, shoots a few folks in the heart, then rides into the setting sun.

Have guitar, will travel.

This time around, Michael was part of a seminar for spiritual healers sponsored by the Salt Lake Theological Seminary. And before he hit the trail, we spent a couple of hours over grub.

Raised as a Catholic, Michael sounds a universal chord of generosity and hope with his songs that touches all faiths. Evangelicals pay him to teach at their conferences. Mormons buy tickets to hear him. Seventh-day Adventists, Christian Scientists and Episcopalians pepper his audiences, along with some people — he says — who thought they were going to a rock concert and ended up in the wrong place.

He has an uncanny ability to make people "puddle up." Whether he's singing of a young boy with Down syndrome, a young girl on her second pregnancy out of wedlock or an old man teaching a kid how to fish, he gets you right between the eyes.

"You used to be more mystical," I told him. "You'd see God in the dancing leaves of a brook or in the floating fields of grain. Now you almost always sing about people."

"I guess I'm more 'incarnational' now," he said. "More and more I see God in other people, not things. I see Jesus embodied in the good people and good things they do. It's been a gradual thing. I have no idea how it works, but Jesus shows up in them."

In one of his new CDs, "Incognito," Michael sees God in a variety of souls. In one song, a mother gets worried whenever Uncle Jack comes for a visit. He says things that are "risky," and he behaves like a boy. But he is so filled with joy that people find him irresistible. When he dies, the family not only mourns his loss, but celebrates his life.

"Aunt Amy" is another song where not just Christian values, but Christ himself, lives in the heart of a special soul.

And in "God in Disguise," Grandpa, the barber, decides to give free haircuts to the homeless each Wednesday. Grandpa prays:

God in disguise,

open up these eyes.

Let me see

the common face of you.

Clear this blurry sight,

through the lens of your light

Till each priceless soul

Comes bright and shining through.

In a final number Michael sings:

All we were, are and ever will be

Is the stumbling, crumbling image of thee

I don't know when Michael will be back in town; when there's more trouble that needs shooting, I suppose. I do know wherever he goes people get out their bandanas — not to hide their faces like bandits, but to wipe at the tears. If you want to sample what Michael is about, dial him up at www.michaelkellyblanchard.com.

But be prepared.

He's a true marksman with his sights on your heart.


E-mail: jerjohn@desnews.com