Todays artist is Mark Heard. Mark was one of the earliest Christian artists who questioned the Christian Music Machine.
Sam Phillips talked about how she opened for him in her early Christian music days (when she performed as Leslie Phillips). A conversation with Mark suggested he saw something of real songwriting potential in her, but she was selling herself short and creating poor art. This ultimately led to Phillips changing her artistic direction.
Early on Mark question commercial Christianity and blind devotion with songs like Plastic Halos and We Believe So Well. He certainly had some stumbles, much of his early work felt like mellow Adult Contemporary music. Almost easy listening.
He also played around with synthesizers. He released a CD under the name Ideola. It wasn’t a total bust or anything, and even had some really solid tracks (How to Grow Up Big and Strong, Is It Any Wonder). But in 1990 Mark struck real gold.
In 1990, he released a folk rock CD called Dry Bones Dance. The reviews were great and quite deserved. Heard’s songs were full of hope, faith, loss, joy and sorrow. It spoke to life as a whole…not just romance, or religious life or some other subset. In 1990, artists from Rich Mullins to Joni Mitchell started covering Mark’s music. His fan base was small, but artists were among them, and the artists were connecting.
He released an equally strong follow up, Second Hand. Musically, it was in the same vein, though maybe a bit folkier. The reaction was just as positive as before. Again, the lyrics covered all aspects of life. Heard was one of the few artists who could take a downer topic like the struggles inherent to marriage and make it not depressing, but rather insightful and hopeful.
In 1992, Heard released Satellite Sky. More political and socially charged than the previous two works, Mark spent the album lamenting the path of the U.S. towards greed and selfishness, ignoring the poor and the suffering around us. He also spoke of his own inadequacy as a man and husband and Christian. Musically, it was much more rock than the last two CDs, but it was still a strong CD. It looked like Heard would be giving fans plenty to hear for years to come and would get that recognition fans felt he deserved.
That same year, during a performance at the Cornerstone festival, he offhandedly mentioned he was having a heart attack. His friends thought he was joking, partially because he was continuing to perform. When he walked off the stage, he lost consciousness. He was rushed to the hospital where he spent a few weeks in a coma before dying. I remember being really hit by his death. His personal songs made it seem like an extra punch. It’s been 15 years since his passing, and his final albums still stand strong. Mark Heard produced Christian music that does not suck.