The term “distressed” gets applied to everything nowadays: clothes, furniture, photos, etc. Usually, the process involves a fast-forward wear-and-tear cycle upon said object in the hopes of applying a quick aura of authenticity. It’s sort of like the spray-on tan equivalent for the school of hard knocks.
But there are also those people who try hard not to let their distress show… who try to wrap their psychic bumps, cuts and bruises in a new coat of beauty because the last thing they want to be reminded of is how those various wounds came to be. Derrick Hart seems to be one of those folks.
Hart’s album Prodigal Songs was begun in 2002 but wasn’t released until Christmas day last year. On his Bandcamp site, Hart explains the nine year delay:
I was addicted to drugs & alcohol for a long time, making very little progress as the next couple years went by. My songs were mostly pitiful junkie autobiographies about things like being up to my neck in hospital bills from nearly dying of drug overdoses a handful of times.
When 2005 arrived there wasn’t much left of my life at all. I was homeless, in my own personal hell of full-blown addiction. My mother convinced me to go to a long term rehab at Denver Rescue Mission in Denver, CO USA. There I stayed for the next year & a half, slowly recovering from the damage done as my spirit began to awake. I wrote songs about my redemption & recorded them on a 4 track well into 2006 right there in the institution.
It’s a dream of mine that this record will be able to pass along a message of hope & to let anyone out there who needs it know that you are not alone.
Musically, the album is reminiscent of Mark Linkous and his project Sparklehorse. It’s a collection of slow acoustic songs mixed with samples, loops, and ambient sound. For instance, the opening track “You’ll Have It All” sets hopeful lyrics against a tragic sounding waltz. Strange noises like a heartbeat filtered through an ultrasound fade in and out. “Sewn In My Heart” takes a similar approach, telling a story about how Hart impacted those around him during his battle with addiction.
The highlight of the album — at least for the optimists of the world — is the album’s closing track, “What A Beautiful World,” and it’s here we should come back to the subject of Mark Linkous. Like Hart, Linkous battled with addiction and had hopeful-sounding titles like “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “It’s A Sad & Beautiful World.” Yet Linkous always seemed to be coming at these songs from the midst of his own hell and in March of 2010 he committed suicide. In “What A Beautiful World,” however, Hart sings from the redemptive side of his experience, from the perspective of someone who was able to put his demons to rest. In a voice and tone much like Linkhous, Hart sings “We live in a world of beauty and sometimes it can blow your mind.”
Yep. Even after life has thoroughly kicked your ass, it can still blow your mind.