Continental Club presents The Mercy Brothers. With The Jones Family Singers.
Louisiana musicians often blend zealous religious lyrics with the most raucous, rowdy accompaniment. From Ferriday’s rocking Jerry Lee Lewis and his preacher cousin Jimmy Swaggart, to the funky gospel guitarists Elder Utah Smith of New Orleans, and Reverend Charlie Jackson, of Baton Rouge, to name but a few, Louisiana music has long straddled that fine line between Saturday night blow-outs and Sunday morning reflection.
The latest band to joyously explore this passionate roots-music border zone is the Lafayette-based Mercy Brothers — as heard on their exuberant debut CD Holy Ghost Power!, on Louisiana Red Hot Records in the US and Rootsy in Europe.
Formed in 2011, the Mercy Brothers blend the spiritual fervor of an old-time tent revival with the rambunctious feel of a rural roadhouse — combining the best elements of celestial and honky-tonk heaven. This unique holy hubbub hybrid, and a reputation for electrifying live shows that inspire impassioned sing-alongs, has won the band a loyal — dare we day devout — following. In 2012 they tore it up at both the Festival International de Louisiane and Festivals Acadiens et Créole in Lafayette, and at New Orleans’ coolest new club, Chickie Wah-Wah, garnering glowing press from the Times of Acadiana and the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and starting a buzz in music circles around the nation.
While the uptempo energy of Mercy Brothers’ country-tinged rocking songs can virtually make the lame walk again, the band’s original lyrics look beyond earthly pleasures to consider deeper issues:
When you feel downtrodden and you think He don’t care, get some Holy Ghost Power!
And you’re looking for an answer so very clear, get some Holy Ghost Power!
When you just can’t put that bottle down, get some Holy Ghost Power!
Just pick yourself up off the ground, with some Holy Ghost Power!
Jesus is mentioned often in the Mercy Brothers’ lyrics. But the Mercy Brothers are not a Born Again band, nor proselytes for any one certain denomination; instead, the band takes the pulpit right to the people with songs of faith and devotion, love and despair, and tales of the spirit from high and low sides alike. What’s more, they do so with deliberate, intriguing ambiguity.
The shared roots of gospel music and early rock and roll are at the heart of The Mercy Brothers’ engine, mining some of the same spiritual struggles that helped to form the personas of Rev. Swaggart and The Killer. Their music explores the passionate and charismatic similarities between the TV preacher and the barnstorming rock and roll rebel, the show-business flourishes tempered with equal parts sincerity and brimstone. The band has staked its own claim on the midway, somewhere between the revival tent and the big top.
The Mercy Brothers also extend a gospel music tradition of bringing salvation to the heathens, so to speak, by performing in secular venues where alcohol is served. The venerable gospel group the Blind Boys of Alabama once faced criticism for this approach — some gospel artists simply won’t do it — but, as founding member Jimmy Carter explained, “One of the best things that happened to us was going into the nightclubs. We have had people throw their drinks away when they heard our message. All the smoke and everything is worth it if we can get one man to even think about a changed life.”
The Mercy Brothers don’t go quite so far as advocating total abstinence — they encourage two-step dancers rather than twelve-step programs — but, like the Blind Boys, they do want to make their audience think about redemption:
I wake up in the middle of the day
Head full of doubt and vision full of pain
I wake up having traded my soul
For a taste of the flesh and some
Calf made of gold
I wake up in the middle of crying
Just looking for love, though a heart that’s dying
I wake up, I wake up
Time to get right now with Jesus
Get right now with the lord
Get right now with Jesus
And your soul will be lost no more
Lead singer Kevin Sekhani comes to the band with decades of professional experience in both Lafayette and Austin, exploring a wide variety of musical styles. Keyboardist Garland Theriot, who contributes mightily to the band’s arrangements, grew up near Lafayette listening to everything — rock, country, Cajun music, zydeco, blues, funk, and more — but “it was the gospel I listened to as a kid that led me to play piano.” Guitarist Jason Leonard, a recent addition to the fold, is a veteran of many south Louisiana bands and an in-demand session player.
Holy Ghost Power! contains invaluable contributions from guitarist/singer/songwriter Mark Meaux, drummer Gregory Walls, and bassist Cal Stevenson.
With the release of Holy Ghost Power!, one of South Louisiana’s most exciting and original new bands is fixing to preach and testify from coast to coast. Go see the Mercy Brothers some Saturday night — but don’t be surprised if you’re still there on Sunday morning!