By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
HOUSE OF MERCY BAND
House of Mercy Recordings
What if you rolled out of bed one morning to find your house silent, your family's toothbrushes by the sink, their boots and scarves next to the garage door, but their bodies gone, vanished? If you grew up with evangelical Christian teachings in the '70s, you would recognize that the worst punishment in the world had been visited upon you: The Rapture came while you were sleeping, the true believers were taken back to live forever in Heaven, and you were left behind.
C.P. Larson remembers growing up in White Bear Lake, in the Evangelical Free Church, and watching the popular film A Thief in the Night, which lays out that frightening scenario of the "end times." The threat of missing out on the Rapture took over pop culture again in the '90s via the bestselling Left Behind book series.
"It's like trying to convert through fear," says the main songwriter for House of Mercy Band's latest album, Left Behind. The album title is a tongue-in-cheek reference by a band of grownup and grown-out-of-it evangelicals who now worship a much more forgiving Christ at St. Paul's homegrown House of Mercy church.
"I think House of Mercy attracts people who were bruised about that, who don't want to hear bad news, who want to hear good news," explains Larson. "Another way to read the Bible is that he already came back, defeated death, and returned to the people. We look at it as if we're living in the post-Rapture world right now."
The House of Mercy Band grew out of the church, and the group is thick with preacher's kids. "I know [drummer] Mark Anderson's dad was a pastor," I say to Larson when I phone him about the new record, "but who else has a religious background?"
Larson laughs, answering, "Well, [mandolin player] Doug [Trail-Johnson]'s dad was a Baptist minister, [bassist] Mike Schultz's dad was a Lutheran minister, [singer] Angie [Talle]'s dad...I think still is a Lutheran minister." Rounding out the lineup are Urban Hillbilly Quartet electric guitarist Jeremy Szopinski and fiddle player Mike "Razz" Russell, formerly of the Original Harmony Ridge Creek Dippers, and current leader of the House of Mercy Band.
There's no Jesus name-dropping on the record; while the group is full of faith, they've produced a work more faithful to musical ideals than to religious ones. With the purity of old rural gospel harmonizing and the electric-fence guitar twang of country-rock, the disc's seven songs bring (secular) rapture and here-on-earth grace. "Never Want You Back," sung by Talle, is a slow-burning, Lucinda Williams-style heartbreaker. When she croons, "You were an angel/So sweet in my arms," there's a sense of loss in her voice that couldn't have been caused by any celestial body. Opener "Trouble Coming" resurrects Gram Parsons, and the old-time Charles Tindley hymn "In the Midst of Faults and Failures" winds up with a plea to "stand by me," a sweet coda sung by a chorus of voices who only rarely join these days.
You see, Left Behind was recorded more than a year ago. The release of the album, and the few shows played to celebrate it, will mark the end of the "C.P. Larson" persona and his time leading the band. The group is safely in "Razz" Russell's hands now, and he has his own players and his own songs. (Besides "Rapture Waltz," he also wrote the record's hidden eighth track.)
As for Larson, he's now free to give music ministry a rest while he becomes, wholly and completely (and perhaps improbably and weirdly) Chris Larson, the internationally recognized creator of gargantuan wood sculptures (and U of M art department instructor). I knew of art-Larson previously and had assumed that here, in the land of 10,000 Larsons, he was not the same man who sung about biblical prophecies. "It was a little confusing with my art career and my job as music minister," he says, sounding not at all conflicted about his decision. "I feel satisfied. That guy I was, C.P. Larson, it's nice to leave him behind."