Mike Farris is a soul man. And like all good soul men, his gospel roots show through. After a three-record run with The Screaming Cheetah Wheelies in the ’90s, Farris launched a gospel career in 2002. He fully exposed his churchiness on 2014’s Shine For the All the People, winning a Grammy for Best Gospel Roots album. There’s more than a little of Sam Cooke ‘s soul in his vocal on Mary Gauthier’s “Mercy Now,” a song Farris got access to just before his father was diagnosed with lung cancer and subsequently died. Farris has said that he took comfort from that message, and his heartfelt delivery surely helped others who were struggling as well.
Farris isn’t preaching the gospel on his latest, Silver and Stone, but there’s plenty of faith on display. The release commemorates his 23rd wedding anniversary, and the tunes pay homage to his wife, Julie, who helped him kick his opioid addiction seven years ago.
Farris clones Stevie Winwood on “Tennessee Girl,” a funky, soulful tribute that any woman from that neck of the woods would be proud to have draped around her shoulders if it wouldn’t disturb the wings that Farris sees protruding from the back of his down-home angel girl who is “always right, never wrong, and never leaves any chicken on the bone.”
It takes a lot of balls to cover “Are you Lonely For Me Baby.” Freddie Scott wrote and recorded it in 1967, but Otis and Carla’s version that same year on King and Queen quickly eclipsed it. It’s cracklin’, head-buttin,’ in-your-face soul that strains the tonsils with its ceiling-scraping lead before dropping to the floor for some low-down, string-snappin’ fonk. But Farris proves up to the task on his take on the soul classic, sounding like Sam and Dave swapping leads with Winwood.
“Can I Get a Witness” isn’t the Marvin Gaye classic, but a Farris composition that starts out sounding like Al Green before morphing into something a bit bluesier, an O.V. Wright feel with Paul Brown’s burbling B-3 stirring up gospel echoes around Farris’ soulful lead.
Farris’ original “Snap Your Fingers” sounds like a ’70s soul classic, Sam Cooke and Sam Moore tied up in a sack and shaken well, each one fighting for vocal domination.
Joe Bonamassa guests on Farris’ original “Movin’ Me,” Farris borrowing Al Green’s vocal cords for the occasion, showing off a flawless falsetto on the churchy anthem with a secular message before the guitarist a steps in, unleashing fistfulls of wah-wah sinner wails.
Although it’s supposed to be a wifely tribute, Farris sneaks in a tribute to another woman on “When Mavis Sings,” entwining gospel and secular realms when the Staple singer delivers her message of love.
It’s the perfect message delivery system, about as close to heaven as you can get without going to church, and you can raise hell while you take it in as well.