Hardship & Hope – Review by Iain MacDonald

“Hardship & Hope” by Michael Harcus

Island Image Records, IIR008

Reviewed by Iain MacDonald

There are some contemporary Gospel albums that become quite repetitive, occasionally self-indulgent, sometimes even cheesy. This latest offering from Michael Harcus avoids all these pitfalls … and some, despite wearing his heart firmly on his sleeve.

“Hardship & Hope” is a distinctly thematic collection and something of a cathartic rediscovery, as honestly explained in the sleeve notes. There’s a sense of journey throughout, not so much from a good old-fashioned crisis of faith, as through a dark time of struggle and illness. It’s personal – intensely so, expressing frustration and dejection in the tradition of so many of the Psalms. But it doesn’t leave us there. Song after song lifts us from dark internal places to light eternal places – a healing transition that the artiste is eager to share.

The style is also transitional – moving through the distinctly upbeat country sound of songs like “You Love me” and “The Stranger” to the more balladic, “To be like a Child Again” and “Seasons”. Tracks such as “Inspiration” and “Look Up” have a notably rocky zest to them whilst the more folky “Resting Place”, with its beautiful harmonies, has an almost celtic sound behind it.

The artiste (This is Michael’s eighth album) has written all bar one of the 14 tracks and is very ably backed by his now regular cast of highly accomplished musicians. Whilst singing along is no doubt allowed (probably encouraged) this is essentially a collection to sit back, listen to and reflect on, rather than to sing chorally. Some of the reflecting will be painful because at parts we deal with faith stripped bare but there’s a powerful light at the end of every tunnel and that’s the dominant theme throughout “Hardship & Hope”.

The production by Philip Anderson is excellent but what else would you expect of an album that proudly boasts to have been “recorded both in Westray, Orkney and Nashville, Tennessee”?

Those with a predilection for their country / rock with a distinctly Gospel flavour will undoubtedly love it. But the quality of musicianship alone deserves a much wider audience still.

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