Again in 2019, Natalie Bergman was poised to step on to the stage at New York’s Radio Metropolis Music Corridor together with her brother Elliot and their band Wild Belle. It ought to’ve been a wonderful night time for the siblings, however earlier than they may play even a single word, they acquired earth-shattering information: their father and stepmother had been killed by a drunk driver.
Bergman was particularly near her father, contemplating him her mentor and largest fan, and his sudden dying left her remoted and adrift. “We ended the tour instantly. It additionally appeared to form of finish my musical ambitions all of sudden,” she instructed NPR’s Simon Scott. “I felt as if I misplaced my id together with his dying. I simply didn’t actually perceive who I used to be.”
After months of grieving, Bergman determined to embrace her sense of isolation much more totally and visited a monastery within the distant California wilderness. Throughout that point of silence, prayer, and reflection spent observing the monastery’s rituals and listening to the monks’ chants, music slowly started easing its approach again into her life. Thus have been sown the seeds for what would turn out to be Bergman’s first solo album, titled merely Mercy, which she wrote and self-produced. (Mercy was launched final 12 months on Jack White’s Third Man Information label.)
Mercy is usually labeled a “gospel” album. Which is smart should you agree with Bergman’s definition of gospel music as “discovering salvation and hope in an in any other case hopeless time.” All through the album’s twelve songs, Bergman sings again and again of her determined want for the Lord within the midst of dying and sorrow. Her lyrics are steadily easy, simple, and unadorned, nearly like a toddler’s prayers, and all of the extra highly effective for it.
“Father, after I’m misplaced I come to You / You’ll fail me not / You’ll not forsake me,” she sings on Mercy‘s opening observe, “Speak to the Lord.” Her frail voice sounds prefer it would possibly give out at any second, but it surely additionally possesses a easy, bedrock religion that permits her to sing “Although I’ve seen so many sorrows, I shall not be moved / Glory hallelujah, I’ll put my religion in You” with heart-wrenching conviction.
Musically, Mercy shows a pleasant eclecticism, starting with its gospel roots, but in addition weaving in parts of folks, reggae, funk, psychedelia, and, within the case of “Shine Your Mild on Me,” lady teams from the ’60s like Diana Ross and the Supremes.
Backed by slick guitar riffs, mild organ notes, and soulful backing vocals, Bergman sings “Come on shine Your mild on me, candy Jesus / I’ve been strolling in shadows / Loss of life follows me wherever I’m going,” earlier than imploring the Lord, “I’ve been misplaced within the desert / Gained’t You lead me into inexperienced pastures?”
Bergman ends “Shine Your Mild on Me” with a easy exhortation: “Jesus will carry you up.” In one other context, which may come throughout as cheesily optimistic (in that singular approach that Christians sadly handle so effectively). Bergman, nonetheless, by no means as soon as permits you to neglect the ache and loss that drove her to jot down her songs.
Mercy is full of reward for Bergman’s heavenly father, but it surely additionally serves as a love letter to her earthly father. And certainly, the album’s emotional heft comes from Bergman’s makes an attempt to stability her perception in, and want for, a loving God with the horror and sorrow of her father’s dying, which would appear to problem the very notion of a loving God.
On “House at Final,” Bergman asks God some fairly pointed questions as she tries to find out her father’s everlasting destiny (“The place have all the great individuals gone? / The those that I really like / Have they gone to the Backyard / The place the Tree of Life grows tall / And the weeping isn’t any extra?”) earlier than sinking right into a blues-y lament:
What’s my sin, Lord? The place is my pleasure?
I’m a motherless little one
I’ve no father, he was my compass
He was the northern star
The music’s stripped down preparations and manufacturing make Bergman’s lyrics all of the extra impactful. (That line about being “a motherless little one” additionally takes on some further weight as soon as you recognize that Bergman misplaced her mom to mind most cancers when she was simply sixteen years outdated.)
“Your Love Is My Shelter” retells Bergman’s final time seeing her father in particular person. The lyrics are haunting as she notes the small print of their time collectively, together with his (sadly) prophetic phrases:
I miss your blue eyes that you just gave to me
I see the white pines that you just planted
Out on our final experience, what you mentioned to me
That you simply received’t be right here without end
Her conclusion is sobering, with language taken from C. S. Lewis’ A Grief Noticed: “Your dying is an amputation/Within the palms of God, I really feel homeless/And with out you, I’m alone.”
We Christians are likely to deal with Christ’s conquer dying, that dying has been swallowed up in victory. And whereas that’s true and is usually a nice consolation throughout making an attempt occasions, it additionally dangers inuring us to the fact of dying. Loss of life is devastation and it leaves nothing however grief and horror in its wake. Which is why Natalie Bergman’s Mercy—like current albums from Nick Cave, Mount Eerie, and Sufjan Stevens—is a welcome and crucial corrective.
When Bergman sings “I’ll sing a ballad for the gloom / Of this wretched life / I declare no glory in my tune / We’re all born to die” (in a music titled, appropriately sufficient, “The Gallows”), it’s not melodramatic or mope-y, like some highschool goth poetry. Relatively, it’s the popularity of a stark reality: this facet of eternity, we can not outrun dying. It should ultimately declare everybody: our pals, our family members, and ourselves.
Fittingly sufficient, Mercy closes with “The Final Farewell,” arguably its starkest and most stripped down music. Bergman recounts the occasions of that fateful day in 2019 (“We by no means made it on to the stage / On the Radio Metropolis Music Corridor”), her fears (“I don’t wish to inform the others / I don’t wish to be the messenger/With information that’ll make them cry”), and her makes an attempt to manage (“I drank till I used to be delirious”). She confronts God (“Inform me, Heaven, the place was your grace?”) and finally ends the music, and the album, with a single, sorrowful request: “I don’t wish to say goodbye.”
I don’t wish to depart you with the impression that Natalie Bergman’s Mercy is nothing however gloom and doom. It’s an exceedingly unhappy album, to make sure, crammed to the brim with Bergman’s harm and longing. Nevertheless it’s additionally full of unimaginable love. Certainly, the rationale it’s so unhappy—I dare you to pay attention with out getting choked up at the least a couple of times—is exactly due to all that love. If Bergman’s songs weren’t so full of love for each of her fathers, then I doubt they’d hit so arduous, or really feel so common.
However beneath all the sorrow, and within the midst of Bergman’s tremulous voice and sparse manufacturing, a sure defiance may be heard.
Mercy is an beautiful expression of grief, however when Bergman sings “Although I’m showered in despair / I’m full of hope,” it additionally serves as an equally stirring reminder that dying, for all of its awfulness, doesn’t have the ultimate phrase. That even within the midst of sorrow, the Lord is right here with us, and He’s sovereign. (Or, to borrow one other line from Bergman, “All of us belong to Him / Jеsus is our pal.”) And above all, that there exists a transcendent actuality a lot sweeter and extra actual than something we will expertise on this world, and never even dying can destroy it.