With its 19th-century church pew booths and Gothic-arched windows, The Abbey Inn Restaurant & Pub in Denton seemed like an appropriate place to meet with Doug Burr to discuss his newest release The Shawl. Despite being a talented songwriter himself, Burr plucked the lyrics for each song on the album directly from the biblical book of Psalms. Released next week, The Shawl comes on the heels of Paste Magazine's mention of Burr in their year-end issue—the same issue that crowned Denton as 2008's "Best Music Scene."
"That kind of attention is really cool," Burr says. "And it builds credibility, but it doesn't feed the family or pay any bills. And I realized awhile back that it's easier to make records on a full stomach."
Between sips from a pint of beer, Burr explains the genesis of the idea to adapt the ancient religious songs into what he refers to as a "folk-pop structure." "For generations, the Psalms have served as an inspiration to so many people," he says. "And so many of them were originally meant to be sung as songs, so, as a musician, I started wondering how they would have sounded."
Burr had adapted a few Psalms into lullabies for his kids, and, at first, he thought about making a children's record. Though, he says, "not in a Christian contemporary pretentious sort of way." The idea was that the songs would be something young children could fall asleep to but that would "resonate" with adults as well. And, you know, not be annoying.
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"The phrases in each Psalm had to have an inherent musicality," he says. "And I decided to use the [New American Standard] translation because it has that old-style language, with the thees and thous. There's just a natural poetic beauty and importance to it, because it's so set apart from our contemporary language."
And, eventually, as Burr started picking and arranging the Psalms that resonated with him, he abandoned the idea of recording the album for children.
"I have a happy house with a wonderful wife and beautiful kids," he explains. "But I like haunting and sad, probably to a fault. For some reason, tragedy has the ability to grab you. It's like this glimpse at raw humanity."
And that's what Burr says is so fascinating about the Psalms and a big reason that they have had such appeal for thousands of years. "While there is a lot of hopelessness in the Psalms, there is an emotional lift there too. They are so real, genuine and honest. There's an authenticity in the words, as the authors struggle and ache and even question their faith. These aren't songs where some guy is worried about his job or his dating life."