With the exception of Jeff Lynne, I rarely fixate on musicians. I have had moments during my life when I was smitten (for lack of a better word) with various artists. There was a period in high school when I was plastering Stryper all over my bedroom walls. By the time I got out of high school I had graduated to Rush. They remained a constant in my life for quite a while. King’s X have also been a periodic favorite. I can say that Electric Light Orchestra and Jeff Lynne have been the one constant. I have considered him my favorite artist ever since I first discovered his music back in sixth grade (thank you Paul Mazzoni).
Lately it seems as if I have been gravitating towards Sixpence None The Richer. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with them, they are a band that started out in the Christian music scene of the Nineties. The first album I heard from them was The Fatherless And The Widow and it was unlike anything else being sold as Christian music. That was in 1994. The lyrics weren’t what I commonly refer to as “Jesus prom songs” and the music had a dream-like quality that was anchored by Matt Slocum’s guitar work. However, it was the vocals of Leigh Nash that floored me.
It is hard for me to listen to her sing today without her face coming to mind. To me, she looks like a pixie and the magical tone of her voice reinforces the image. I have always made that connection. I remember reading a small write-up on them in the long-gone CCM magazine before ever hearing their music so I had a preconceived idea as to what they were going to sound like. They definitely challenged that notion. They were playing pop music that was pleasing to the ear but the lyrics were one step above everything else out there. It was refreshing to hear music…CHRISTIAN MUSIC…that wasn’t cheesy or trite. I had similar thoughts the next year when I heard Jars Of Clay debut album.
Sixpence remained on my radar for a couple of years but I was into heavier stuff at the time and I never fully embraced them. I respected them and I really liked them but they weren’t playing the kind of stuff that I was listening to. This was during the first year after my failed attempt at Bible college and I was still sorting out a lot of my feelings and thoughts concerning spiritual matters. I was in a dark place and Sixpence were a little too bright and happy for me. It wasn’t until they released their self-titled album in 1997 and the infectiously peppy Kiss Me saturated the airwaves that they really got my attention.
I had worked through my dark tea time of the soul and was doing my best to seek God in my personal life. Music naturally played a part of that. Due in part to Jars Of Clay’s unexpected success in the secular market, Christian bands were starting to have crossover hits. Kiss Me was one of those. Their cover of The La’s There She Goes was another one that you just couldn’t escape. It was nice to hear Leigh Nash’s voice again. I imagine that a lot of people got sick of hearing it, especially those two songs, but for me it was like reconnecting with an old friend that I had forgotten about.
I didn’t became a huge Sixpence fan and I don’t consider them to be one of my top ten favorite bands but I do think that Leigh Nash may have one of the most beautiful voices in pop music. I really became a fan of her voice when she participated in the City On A Hill albums in the early 2000s. I was blown away in 2008 when I first heard Sixpence’s Christmas album and their rendition of Angels We Have Heard On High. I know the Bible doesn’t refer to angels in feminine terms but her voice was truly angelic on that song. My two favorite vocal performances from Nash are both cover songs.
The first is their massively successful version of Crowded House’s Don’t Dream It’s Over. It is my belief that song may be one of the few perfect songs ever. The original is one of my favorite songs of all time and I never thought I would want to hear anyone cover it. Sixpence nail it. Nash’s vocals take the lyrics to another level and the music is faithful to the original. The song works on every level. It is one of the few cover songs that match the power of the original. Some feel that it even eclipses the Crowded House version. I haven’t gone there yet, but I admit that it is close.
The second is totally unlike the first. It is found on a Jeff Lynne tribute album that was released in 2001. Unlike the majority of the songs Sixpence have covered, their interpretation of On The Run is completely different. It is much slower than the disco-tinted original and maintains that dreamy vibe Sixpence are known for. Nash sings the lyrics clearly and sincerely. I will be honest, it wasn’t until I heard their version of the song that I realized I had been singing some of the words incorrectly for my entire life. I assumed that they had changed them but a Google search confirmed that I had been wrong.
I am sitting in my office listening to Sixpence as I write this. The music flowing from my little desktop speakers only confirms everything that I have written. The Fatherless And The Widow still sounds fresh and original over twenty years later. The music is still better than most of the stuff you hear on the radio. The lyrics are still intelligent and challenging. Most importantly, Leigh Nash still sounds like an angel.