Silver & Stone
Compass Records
Mike Farris’ last album, Shine for All the People, earned him a 2015 Grammy for Best Gospel Roots Album. But his latest, Silver & Stone,might be even better. At last, Farris’s songwriting has reached the point where his originals can outnumber his covers — and more than hold their own next to well-chosen numbers written by Willie Dixon, Bert Berns, Bill Withers, Bill Cook (Sam Cooke’s manager) and young Canadian songwriter William Prince. Regarding the latter, he turns Dixon’s “Let Me Love You Baby” into a funky groover, and Withers’ “Hope She’ll Be Happier” into a dramatic, heart-rending saga. Not surprisingly, his take on Berns’s “Are You Lonely For Me” leans more toward the Freddie Scott and Al Green versions than the Otis Redding/Carla Thomas rendition, but when it comes to soul, Farris has a wide comfort zone. Here, he heads north and south, pulling references from Detroit, Philly, Memphis and Muscle Shoals. One minute, he’s conjuring Sam Cooke fronting the Fairfield Four or Blind Boys of Alabama (“Tennessee Girl”) and the next, he’s luring Gamble & Huff into 926 E. McLemore Ave. (“Can I Get a Witness?”) — and ladling servings of doo-wop to everyone. Then he gives Prince’s “Breathless” an almost country-pop feel, with a “Walking in Memphis” vibe. Farris meshes several vocal influences into the syncopated-funk-meets-rockin’-pop of “Snap Your Fingers” and pays homage to Al Green in the slow groove and sweet falsetto of “Movin’ Me” (featuring co-writer Kevin McKendree on Wurlitzer organ and a guitar solo by bluesman Joe Bonamassa). But he really outdoes himself on “When Mavis Sings,” a terrific tribute to the reigning queen of gospel soul. The album itself was an anniversary present to his wife, but when Farris belts out this joyous ode, “we get the message, the message of love” on a wavelength meant to reach around the world — and straight up to heaven. — LYNNE MARGOLIS