Whether art imitates life or life imitates art is still up for debate, but one thing is certain— you cannot separate the two from one another. Especially with the turbulence of these past few years, art has been a necessary outlet for many. Today, the Concert for the Human Family is announcing a new songbook via The Episcopal Church as an ode to the influence of art.
The series is spearheaded by recording artist, pianist, and composer Kory Caudill, who co-wrote a majority of the forthcoming songbook American Hymn. The songbook will be released in its entirety on September 17 of this year with five instrumental songs and a bonus track.
In a stirring combination of music, social justice, and faith, American Hymn shines a light on this country’s flaws while simultaneously encouraging reconciliation. “Writing this album allowed us to say things we couldn’t say with words,” Caudill tells American Songwriter.
“I started writing the album in 2018, and I had a difficult time finishing it,” Caudill continues. “When Chester [Thompson, drummer] was kind enough to join the process in 2021, it immediately became apparent that I wasn’t supposed to finish this one alone. This album is meant to represent human emotions during important moments in our country.
“Chester taught us that this album wasn’t about jazz instruments doing jazz things. He approached drums as his voice, and Justin [Smith, bassist] and I learned from that. Funny enough, a jazz/prog rock guru who grew up in Baltimore, is who allowed the Appalachian roots in my playing to surface in the album.”
Sonically, this EP is just as Caudill describes—American Hymn exists as a microcosm of the larger United States. Caudill pries out topics from the corners of our social realms like the decline of Appalachia, navigating the effects of COVID on American society, raising children in a socially divided country, and more. Yet each of these issues has a place in our collective path towards healing.
“Knowing there was a home for this music allowed us to focus on how our feelings translated into notes as opposed to worrying about what genre we could fit into. That home being a small part of the Becoming Beloved Community movement kept us honest. We didn’t record anything unless it had meaning,” Caudill concludes.
Read below for Caudill’s in-depth track-by-track explanation of American Hymn, and watch out for the pre-order link this Thursday (8/19).
American Hymn No.1 (From Hymn to Freedom): “I was in Washington D.C. in preparation for a performance with Justin Moore at the National Memorial Day Concert. The setting forced a lot of reflection, appreciation, and admiration for the country I’m blessed to live in. At the same time, the divides in our country were continually growing. Mostly, I was growing more and more concerned about the world my wife and I had just brought a daughter into. That night, after a couple bourbons with the band, I went about my usual routine of scouring the hotel for a hidden piano. When I found a Steinway tucked away in a conference room, I sat down and played Oscar Peterson’s “Hymn to Freedom.” Things quickly turned into something that represented what was inside me at the time.”
American Hymn No.2: “In late spring of 2020, when the music industry had faced the realization that the pandemic was going to upend our way of life, I went through a lot of the same struggles as my colleagues. I also found a silver lining when I picked up on the fact that my son, Ellis, was starting to speak with a hillbilly accent that his older sister doesn’t have. ‘That’s because you’ve been home and he’s around you!’ my wife told me. On a night when the world was turned upside down, my home felt like heaven on earth, and this is song is what I sat down and played in my studio after the kids went to bed.”
American Hymn No.3: “In building the soundstage for the record, I was having a conversation with Chester and Justin (bass) about elements beyond the three of us when I raised the question of whether or not the record needed percussion. Knowing the foundation of the album and the home it would have, Chester was quick to point out a history of hand drums in American music that I wasn’t aware of. He shared that slave owners stopped allowing slaves to own hand drums/percussion after it was discovered they were being used as a means of communication. After two short years of traveling the world and learning as much as possible about our country’s history and its dark foundations in slavery, this added to the many sad circumstances of our past that I was unaware of. Learning these things from a brilliant musician, who happens to be the kindest soul in the music industry, was even more touching. We went in to cut this song following that conversation, and Chester opting to put the sticks down and play with his hands for the first couple minutes was one of the most moving moments I’ve ever experienced.”
American Hymn No.4: “When we began designing the Concert for the Human Family series, I set a personal goal of making sure that Appalachia has a place in the music. After seeing the awe-inspiring places we planned to perform in and the cities they were in the heart of, I became more excited about bringing a small piece of my Appalachian roots to the room. When we recorded our first event in the beautiful Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral, this was the song I wanted to perform on the ‘American Hymn’ record for one main reason: The right hand in my piano part was written to sound like the wind chimes on my mamaw’s front porch in Melvin, KY.”
American Hymn No.5: “I grew up 20 feet from coal train tracks in Prestonsburg, KY. If it passed while I was practicing piano, I’d often use its rhythms as a drum pattern and play along. When thinking about releasing my first album in a new venture, it was important to me that those rhythms had a place on the record.”
Bonus Track – “Over the Rainbow”: “My family has a very special connection to rainbows. I’ve seen them bring peace to my family during very needed times over the years, and I’ve always been thankful for that. Recently, however, the symbol has taken on a new meaning for me. When I perform this song live, I dedicate it to my wife Amanda and our “rainbow baby” Annaleigh. If folks know what that term means, they’ve likely experienced, or know somebody who’s experienced tragedy. Amanda and I found that folks too often feel they can’t open up about this kind of loss and that shouldn’t be the case. Playing this song always gives her and I comfort, and we hope that it does the same for folks who listen. More than that, we hope that folks who have had similar experiences no longer feel pressure to tough things out on their own.”