Photographs and Text by Daniel Corey
This time last year, Daniel Lanois and his new band Heavy Sun were in the midst of a residency at Zebulon, in the Atwater Village area of Los Angeles. These weekly concerts were like a dress rehearsal for the band’s upcoming album and tour. The tour was sadly postponed for obvious reasons, but today, the public is able to reap the benefits of Heavy Sun’s hard work with the release of Daniel Lanois’ new album, Heavy Sun.
Heavy Sun is the first entry in Lanois’ new “Maker Series,” the name which he is giving this current streak of creative output, which he predicts will extend into the next four years. I first experienced the roots of this current artistic phase around Christmastime 2018, the day after Lanois had won a Game Award for his work scoring Red Dead Redemption 2. That night featured songs from Red Dead, as well as a spate of gospel-infused tunes, featuring guests Eula Gipson, Jim Wilson, Rocco DeLuca, Johnny Shepherd, Brian Blade, Pastor Brady Blade, Sr., and Daryl Johnson.
Lanois and Heavy Sun would continue this output with a series of sessions throughout 2019, which would culminate in the eventual Zebulon residency at the start of 2020. It has been an amazing journey to witness.
Throughout this time of development of Lanois and Heavy Sun, I had the opportunity to cover their weekly Zebulon gigs, as well as do an in-depth interview with bassist and vocalist Jim Wilson about his life in rock and roll for Bass Musician Magazine. I also had a chance to speak with Lanois about his work creating the music for Red Dead Redemption 2 for my friends at Fanbase Press.
Heavy Sun is Daniel Lanois (guitar, vocals, producer), Jim Wilson (bass, vocals), Johnny Shepherd (Hammond B3, vocals), and Rocco DeLuca (guitar, lap steel, vocals). The sound that Lanois and Heavy Sun have developed over the past year and a half has been a creative miracle, steeped in eclectic style and inspired creativity. At once gospel, world, rock and ambient, Heavy Sun is a unique force that defies labels.
The album opens with a spiritual gut-punch in Dance On, which features Johnny Shepherd’s soaring, gospel-infused vocals, then thunderously moves through Power. Every Nation is a guitar-led track that harkens back to sonic stylings that Lanois’ fans know so well, while songs like Way Down, Tumbling Stone, Mother’s Eyes and Out of Sight feature the band in a gentle gospel mode, blending hauntingly joyful harmonies that are driven by Shepherd’s prolific B3 organ. Title track Under a Heavy Sun—a song that I heard develop over many forms during their Zebulon residency—has landed as a fascinating commingle of jazz, rock and gospel that features a beautiful call-and-repeat between Shepherd as pastor and the rest of the band as congregation.
My personal favorite of the album is Tree of Tule, which features a steady, calypso-style beat, lilting piano and driving bass line. The tune is through-sung by the quartet in tight harmony, telling the story of a thousand-year-old tree in Santa María del Tule, Mexico. A fan of Lanois’ extended catalogue may find Tree of Tule reminiscent of the world beats and aesthetic in his work with Peter Gabriel.
Heavy Sun is definitely a vocal-based band that features Lanois’ rich voice anchoring the ensemble. Shepherd’s soaring tenor weaves a divine and dynamic thread through the sonic curtain of song, while Wilson and DeLuca’s bountiful rock tenor flavors give the fabric a heightened presence that pushes the overall aesthetic into a realm of spiritual transcendence.
In the waning days of one of the darkest times for the planet, Daniel Lanois and Heavy Sun have gifted us with a spiritual affirmation. Heavy Sun could be the soundtrack that we needed, that we can take with us over the finish line into a new world of health and rehabilitation.
Buy Daniel Lanois’ Heavy Sun on iTunes and Amazon, and stream it on Spotify. Also check out Lanois’ other solo albums, as well as works by Jim Wilson, Rocco DeLuca and Johnny Shepherd. Albums and merch are available at Daniel Lanois’ homepage.
Also be sure to catch my MAKERS Episode IV interview with Jim Wilson, my Heavy Sun coverage Daniel Lanois and Heavy Sun Set Over Zebulon, Daniel Lanois and Heavy Sun Continue Their Zebulon Orbit, and Daniel Lanois and Heavy Sun Shine Bright at Zebulon. And check out my interview with Daniel about his work on the Red Dead Redemption 2 soundtrack at Fanbase Press.
Enjoy the music, DangerKatts! Until next time!
– Daniel Corey