In Gospel

I saw The Audreys perform at the Bridgetown Blues Festival in November last year, barely a fortnight after they won the Aria Award for the Best Blues and Roots Album of 2006.

This strangely named group won the Aria with a strangely titled CD, Between Last Night and Us. And as if the award itself were not testament enough to the quality of their music, they won it ahead of some of Australia’s best musicians in the blues and roots category. Between Last Night and Us triumphed over Bernard Fanning’s Tea and Sympathy, Lior’s Doorways of My Mind, The Flood’s The Late Show and Xavier Rudd’s Food in the Belly. That’s quite an achievement!

I managed to catch two of The Audreys’ performances at the Bridgetown Blues Festival. The lead singer and only female of the group, Taasha Coates, was a joy to watch and a joy to hear. She sang with superb expression and inflection. Her voice was pure, versatile and effortless. Sometimes it would flute into an exquisite falsetto. At other times it would give way to a wail-cum-sigh-cum-groan, a sweet wordless expression of yearning and sadness.

And the songs Taasha sang—most of which she co-wrote with other band members—were melodic and appealing. Played on guitar, banjo, double base and violin, the tunes were not predictable, but they were somehow inevitable: as if the notes followed the logic of some loveliness that the ear intuitively knows and longs for. All in all, Taasha’s voice combined with the band’s instruments to create some deeply pleasing songs.

After listening to The Audreys a second time at the blues festival, I decided to buy their CD, Between Last Night and Us. I did this with some reluctance, having been disappointed on other occasions by the discrepancy between live performance and studio recording. But I need not have worried.

The sound of the CD was certainly different from the sound of the live performance, but it was different in a good way. The Audreys are more restrained on CD than on stage and this restraint suits the subtleties of their melodies and lyrics. On CD, the instruments are more acoustic and accomplished and Taasha’s voice is more delicate and stylish. Every pick of the banjo, every strum of the guitar, every stroke of the violin, every inflection of the voice is clearly defined. Consequently, the studio recording captures some of the poignancy and sadness of the songs that got lost in the live performance.

One of my favourites on the CD is “Long Ride”, which is sung as a duet between Taasha Coates and Cam Goodall (who is a special guest on the CD). On paper, the song’s lyrics don’t seem to amount to much. But put to the sounds of the banjo, the resophonic guitar and the singers’ voices, they are quite beautiful. The song is (to use the words of Rolling Stone magazine about the CD as a whole) “divinely melancholic”.

The song opens with the lines, “Long ride, that you are taking me on/ A long strange ride”. A little later it continues: “Long night and even longer day/ I’m so sorry, I’ve been travelling blind/ High time you rest your weary eyes/ Love, it’s been a long strange ride”.

Part of the song’s appeal is its ambiguity. Is it about a literal or a metaphorical “long ride”? Are Taasha and Cam singing about a “long strange ride” that lovers are taking in a motorcar or a train? Or is the “long ride” a metaphor for their relationship? Perhaps it is love’s journey that they are singing about. Or is the “long ride” a metaphor for life? Perhaps it is life’s journey that is the subject of their song.

The clue to understanding the nature of the journey is in the song’s refrain: “There must be, there must be, there must be, there must be something else/ There must be, there must be, there must be, there must be something else/ We haven’t found on this long strange ride”. Without ruling out the possibilities of a literal journey or of love’s journey, the refrain implies that it is life’s journey that Taasha and Cam are singing about.

As we travel through life we cannot shake the feeling that there must be something else. The journey itself is not enough. The experiences we have and the aspirations we fulfil and the relationships we form on this journey are also not enough. They may be good and satisfying in their own ways, but they never quite quell an indefinable yearning for something else, something other. We sense that there is some meaning, some purpose that has eluded us.

This yearning is both the subject and the mood of The Audreys’ song. The voices of Taasha and Cam harmonise to create the very sense of longing and loss that they are singing about.

“There must be, there must be, there must be, there must be something else.” But where does this yearning for something else, something other, come from? There is no evidence of it anywhere else in nature. No animal pines for something else when it has acceptable surroundings, ample food and a sociable mate. So why is it that we humans—despite pleasant surroundings, abundant possessions and loving company—feel this sense of emptiness and desire this “something else”?

We have this feeling because we are more than matter. If we were merely material, physical, natural creatures—the products of random combinations of minerals and chemicals over billions of years—then we would not have this feeling. We would be content with our lot, like the rest of earth’s creatures. This is a spiritual yearning, a yearning that can only be understood in spiritual terms.

The Bible explains it this way: We have these spiritual yearnings because we are spiritual beings; and we are spiritual beings because God made us in his likeness. Human beings are created in a special way by God and for God. He instilled in us qualities that belong uniquely to him. He infused our beings with the traits of his Being: personality, intelligence, language, aspiration, emotion, moral sense, creativity and will. (And although his image in us has been damaged because of our wrongdoing, it has not been destroyed.) This explains why we, unlike all other creatures on earth, wonder about our origin, enquire about our purpose, and worry about our destination. We are troubled by intangible longings because God who is Spirit put a spirit within us, a spirit that longs for him wherever we are, whatever we do and whatever we have.

There is something else because there is Someone else; and this Someone else is the something else we are yearning for. This great, good God who made us and loves us and wants to have a relationship with us—he alone is the one who can satisfy the hunger of our souls and fill the emptiness of our hearts. It is the lack of his loving presence and his purposeful guidance that fills us with the sense that “there must be something else/ We haven’t found on this long strange ride”.

There must be … and there is! The Bible says of this something, this Someone, “Acquaint now yourself with him and be at peace” (Job 22:21).

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