The melancholy lyrics still resonate, long after singer-songwriter Mark Heard died.
Snippets like “Time marches away like a lost platoon” and “Give me the reasons to go on. Soften the sorrow that shatters and bends, and mend broken dreams” have been with Jeff Grantham throughout his life.
The Greenwood resident remembers hearing Heard’s songs when he was a young man, and the impact hasn’t dulled.
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“The power of music is amazing. A song touches you, moves you. It’s something about it that can speak to you. When you’re lonely, it’s a friend,” Grantham said. “His music was one of those memorable things in my life that stuck with me.”
The importance of Heard’s music has inspired Grantham in an unusual undertaking. A longtime music fan, Grantham has helped orchestrate a tribute album with the help of some of the biggest names in Americana music.
“Treasure of the Broken Land: The Songs of Mark Heard” features legends such as Buddy Miller and Rodney Crowell, mainstays such as the North Mississippi Allstars and Over the Rhine, as well as fresh voices such as Levi Parham and Indianapolis’ own Lily and Madeline.
Now, 25 years after Heard died, a new generation of listeners can experience the music that meant so much to him.
“It’s bringing it to a new set of ears. Even the artists themselves, a lot of them had not heard of Mark,” Grantham said. “It’s a testament to (Heard’s) songwriting — you can take the original versions of his songs, which may sound a little dated, and these artists breathe new life into the songs. They sound so different than the originals, but in a good way.”
Grantham works in the operations management field but has long had an interest in the music industry. He had dabbled in songwriting himself, has been executive producer on a number of albums and has helped put on shows in the Indianapolis music scene, such as the yearly Tonic Ball event.
But this was the most intensive project he has worked on.
Heard was a prolific songwriter, recording 16 albums from the 1970s to the early 1990s. Hailing from Macon, Georgia, he started as a contemporary Christian artist before forming his own label, Fingerprint Records, to make music on his own terms.
The release of a trio of albums — “Dry Bones Dance,” “Second Hand” and “Satellite Sky” — displayed the depth and talent of Heard as a lyricist.
In 1992, Heard was performing at the Cornerstone Music Festival when he suffered a mild heart attack. He recovered, but two weeks after his release he went into cardiac arrest and died.
At the time of his death, Heard was under major record label consideration and attracting new fans.
“He was only 40 years old, he was on the rise, he had a wife and a young daughter. It was one of those sad stories in music of someone dying too young,” Grantham said. “He was just getting that chance to get to the next career stepping stone, and then it didn’t happen.”
Grantham never saw Heard perform, and didn’t know him personally. He was living in Washington in the early 1990s and had tickets for one of Heard’s concerts in Seattle that was canceled once the musician died.
But his music remained among Grantham’s favorites. He kept waiting for it to be rediscovered and gain popularity.
Heard’s music had a resurgence in 2005, when Miller recorded one of his songs, “Worry Too Much,” on an album. That song won the Americana Music Association’s Song of the Year, with the award going to Heard posthumously.
“I remember thinking that was so great, Buddy won this award and now maybe other artists will look into Mark’s catalog and cover songs,” Grantham said.
But that didn’t happen. Previous tribute albums had been recorded in the ’90s but have since gone out of print. Heard’s other albums had also gone out of print. Years went by, and Heard’s songs settled back into obscurity.
So Grantham stepped in to do something himself.
He approached producer Phil Madeira, who he had met in Nashville, Tennessee years before and who had been friends with Heard, about doing a tribute record. The discussion spanned a few years, until both felt that it was time to make the project happen.
“Most people wouldn’t think it would be a good idea to put out a record of a guy who’s been dead for 25 years, who no one really knew,” Gratham said. “But that’s exactly why I wanted to do it — no one else was going to do it.”
For Madeira, Heard’s appeal was in the conflict that stirred inside him and spilled out in his lyrics.
“The best songwriting comes out of wrestling and conversing with yourself. It’s a spiritual endeavor,” he said in a statement.
Once the project was decided on, Madeira started lining up artists. He first approached Rodney Crowell, a two-time Grammy Award winner. Crowell said yes, and the more people they asked to participate, the more exciting the Americana music industry got about it.
“There was something about Mark that felt like a kindred spirit, a brother in arms — although we never actually met,” said Linford Detweiler, pianist/guitarist/bassist for Over the Rhine. “He seemed to be struggling with how his music fit into the world.”
Drew Holcomb had been introduced to the music by an early guitar teacher. The Tennessee-based musician was struck by Heard’s process.
“I loved his alternative approach at making music about faith and life that was confessional instead of prescriptive,” he said in a statement.
What was originally planned on being a 12-track album grew to 18 songs, and could have be more if Grantham and Madeira didn’t decide to cut it off.
The lineup is a blend of longtime Americana mainstays and emerging talent.
Miller, a 12-time Americana Music Award winner, provided his version of the title track, “Treasure of the Broken Land.” Crowell did a version of the wistful “Nod Over Coffee.”
The Red Dirt Boys, Madeira’s group that serves as the backing band for Emmylou Harris, recorded the driving “Satellite Sky.”
Parham is a Oklahoma-born up-and-coming roots musician. Matt Haeck released his must-heralded debut last year. Melodious sisters Lily & Madeline have gone from regional favorites in Indianapolis to nationwide stars.
“It’s a pretty eclectic group, but a group that has done a lot in music, contributed a lot to what we listen to,” Grantham said. “All of the artists who got involved, they didn’t have to do it. But they chose to, and I think they did inspired work.”
A pre-order campaign is going on currently, where fans can order the album digitally, on CD or vinyl, and get t-shirts, mugs and other gear. The first song, Holcomb’s “Tip of My Tongue” was released April 12. The album itself will be released on June 2.
Grantham has been a one-man show organizing the entire effort. He put up much of his own money to record the album and do publicity, which was a daunting decision.
But one that he felt was right to do.
“Everyone who knew who Mark was; we’re all getting older. My concern was, once we’re gone, there won’t be anyone to perpetuate his legacy,” Grantham said. “Who else would do it?”
“Treasure of the Broken Land: The Songs of Mark Heard”
What: A tribute album honoring singer-songwriter Mark Heard, who died in 1992.
Who: The project was instigated by Jeff Grantham, a Greenwood resident, and produced by Phil Madeira.
- Buddy Miller
- Rodney Crowell
- Over the Rhine
- North Mississippi Allstars
- Drew Holcomb
- Lily & Madeleine
- Matt Haeck
- Levi Parham
- Birds of Chicago
- Sean Rowe
- Cruz Contreras
- Amy Speace
- Willie Sugarcapps
- Amy Helm, Cindy Morgan and Levi Parham
- Sierra Hull
- Red Dirt Boys
- Humming People
- Sarah Potenza
How to get it: A pre-order campaign is now going on through pledgemusic.com/projects/markheard. The album will be released nationwide on June 2.