Frontman Caleb John Lawson revealed the backdrop of ‘A Different Gospel’ for Local Spins on WYCE, which also debuted tracks by August, Sterpher, Crooked Spires, The Shook, Steve Rivers and much more.
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Grand Rapids singer-songwriter Caleb John Lawson has never actually met most of the musicians on his latest recording project, with some of them hailing from Colorado, Georgia, Florida, France and the Dominican Republic.
Hence, he decided to dub the project Brother John & The Lonely Roads, tipping a hat to his newfound, long-distance musical comrades who contributed remotely to “A Different Gospel” – the rootsy, Americana- and gospel-inflected collection he released in late April.
“It really was kind of a leap of faith for me because I hadn’t played with other folks in quite awhile. This could be a challenge,” Lawson said of utilizing musicians he discovered and researched via the Fiverr.com website where singers and instrumentalists offer their services for various projects.
“I’m so, so happy with how everything came together. … My players were all across God’s green earth. It did get lonely, tracking vocals on my own, and not being able to play with the other co-conspirators on this project. But in a way, that’s what made it so powerful for me.”
There’s also lots of power packed into Lawson’s lyrics and music, exposing vulnerabilities and questioning that’s related to religion and faith.
Those weave their way through the tracks “Oh, Susannah” and “Pushin’ (The Gospel Plow)” that he spotlighted for this week’s edition of Local Spins on WYCE. Scroll down to listen to the interview and full radio show podcast.
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Lawson, 31, grew up in a home-schooled and fundamentalist Christian environment, influenced by his piano-playing, classically trained father, a guitar-playing brother and a mentor, RuthAnn Eilers, who convinced him to play banjo with her and dragged him to “so many different shows and jam sessions.”
He attended Muskegon Community College and Goshen College, and eventually graduated with a degree in children’s literature from Grand Valley State University.
As a gay man, he also wrestled with his faith and his religious upbringing. “It’s hard to unlearn a lot of the messages you get in the church,” he said, with songs such as “Oh, Susannah” directly addressing that “internal struggle.”
Lawson also cites an “incredibly diverse” set of influences on his music: Mississippi John Hurt, Brandi Carlile, Bessie Jones, Washington Phillips, Abigail Washburn, The Carolina Chocolate Drops, Robert Randolph, Jennifer Hudson, Reba McEntire, Miranda Lambert, Gillian Welch, Elijah Blake and many more.
For “A Different Gospel,” he specifically drew “deeply from old black roots gospel and spiritual songs.”
The guitarist and banjo player also credits Grand Rapids musician Joey Frankovich, of Odd Space, for providing feedback, advice and “sick guitar chops” on the new recording.
And while Lawson hasn’t performed the new songs publicly yet due to the COVID pandemic, Lawson is committed to continuing his musical exploration in the recording studio – likely calling on some of the same far-flung collaborators from “A Different Gospel,” local musicians and writers and “whoever I can wrangle in” for the projects.
“I’m real easy,” he offered, calling The Lonely Roads “an ongoing musical gamble.”
“I just kind of go with the flow. I’m just going to keep going with it and see where it takes me.”
Beyond showcasing Lawson’s music, this week’s edition of Local Spins on WYCE (which focuses on Michigan-bred music at 11 a.m. Fridays on WYCE 88.1 FM and online at wyce.org) also featured new music from August, Crooked Spires, Sterpher, Alfie DaGreat & Sid Swift, Steve Rivers, Tommy Schichtel, Feeding Grizzlies, The Shook and George Montrelle, with a musician’s pick by Lawson of Odd Space. Listen to the podcast here.
PODCAST: Local Spins on WYCE (8/27/21)
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