Murry Hammond – Burbank First Christian Church (Burbank, CA)
Clad entirely in black, with his head down, Murry Hammond strummed the opening chords of E.C. & Orna Ball’s “Trials, Troubles, Tribulations”. But as he approached the microphone ready to sing, a look of concern came across his face. The music abruptly stopped and Hammond stared into the congregation at the Burbank First Christian Church.
“Hey, how’s Dudley?” he asked.
The inquiry into the health of an absent parishioner quickly solidified the point that this was more than a performance of music — this was indeed a cozy gathering of friends. But that was pretty clear when the kids scampered across the carpet during his first tune.
Normally strapped with a bass guitar as one quarter of the raucous alt-country band Old 97’s, Hammond spent this evening on six-and-twelve-string acoustic guitar, providing nuanced solo takes on a variety of rootsy gospel songs. Atop wonderfully clean playing, his warm, reverb-rich vocals rang throughout the large hall on numbers such as Johnny Cash’s “An Old Account Was Settled Long Ago” and Washington Phillips’ “Lift Him Up”.
A member of Burbank First Christian since 2002, Hammond was having a difficult time attending Sunday services because of weekend obligations with the Old 97’s and other projects. In May of this year, he and minister Steven E. Borgard finally found a solution. Borgard wanted a more relaxed service during the week; Hammond wanted to be able to attend church and help with the music. Thus, their weekly Wednesday night musical service was born, and has since found Hammond tackling everything from dark interpretations of Hank Williams classics to duets with Borgard on guitar.
On this night, Hammond eagerly took part in all facets of the service — from greeting the attendees as they arrived to chiming in during the informal between-song discussions led by pastor Borgard.
While the service has taken some time to catch on, the attendees all clearly enjoyed the music. Hammond-led sing-alongs were met with enthusiasm; one woman politely exclaimed, “That was beautiful!” as “Lift Him Up” came to an end.
One got the feeling that many of the churchgoers had no idea that only months ago and a few miles away, Hammond had bounced around the stage of the Viper Room, leading a wild and sweaty crowd through a very different kind of sing-along. But that’s probably fine with Murry.