|THE MELODIES IN ME - Honeytree|
Myrrh Records - MSB-6591
1. movement, passage, or change from one position, state, stage, or concept to another; change.
Nancy Honeytree has said that, looking back, her music ministry has been carried out in three broad phases: the Jesus Music era in the early to mid-1970s; her unique ministry to single adults in the 1980s; and her more recent focus on missions. We didn't realize it at the time, but The Melodies in Me was a transitional album for Honeytree. It was autobiographical...it was much more personal...and it marked the beginning-of-the-end of her Jesus Music period and a shift toward more adult-focused contemporary Christian Music.
"If I look back at 43 years of ministry, it seems to me that it's in three phases," Nancy shared in a 2013 interview. "The first was the Jesus Music time, but if I were to analyze it now, I would say that was 'youth ministry.' I was singing in coffeehouses and the big festivals and going to college campuses and all that. But I did experience a time in the early eighties where I felt like I wasn't really connecting with the new youth that were coming forward. I felt awkward, like, 'What am I supposed to do now?' And the Lord took His time telling me. I did not know for several years. I felt like I needed to be faithful, to be fruitful with what I had, so I just kept on sort of awkwardly ministering to youth but not really connecting. But during that time God was refreshing me as a single adult. I didn't get married until I was thirty-eight, and my husband was forty-two when we got married, so we had eighty years of singleness between the two of us. But God was challenging me to recommit my life unconditionally as a single adult. And that was bringing such a refreshing. I was starting to get excited about writing songs like Single Heart and Every Single Day and stuff like that. So out of that came a phase of 'singles ministry' in my life, where I got to not only sing, but share in teaching workshops the things the Lord was doing in my life as a single adult. Then my husband came along, J.R. Miller. We fell in love and got married, and kept doing singles ministry for a while. But then God brought a new challenge to me through some missionary friends who challenged me to sing in Spanish. So I started to sing in Spanish and I also started to study Spanish. And now, I can do a service in Spanish without an interpreter or anything. I've been working on Spanish for twenty years. And that opened the door to other languages, too. So youth, singles and missions have been the three phases."
That "Jesus Music" phase that Nancy mentioned began when she surrendered her heart and life to the Lordship of Christ (which we have discussed in great detail in earlier posts, here and here) and continued up through 1977. During those years Honeytree recorded four albums (her self-titled debut in 1973; The Way I Feel in 1974, the classic Evergreen in 1975, and a live album titled Me and My Old Guitar in 1977).
But our feature album, The Melodies in Me, signaled a departure for the “First Lady of Jesus Music.” This is the first sense we get that Honeytree is beginning to trade her hippie image for a slightly more mellow, more mature version of herself. One reviewer writes that the album seems to come "from an older spirit." Nancy was still a young woman in 1978, but she comes across as an old soul on this record. Musically, The Melodies in Me finds her trading in the simple acoustic folk for more sophisticated orchestration and production that could even be described as "slick" or "polished." Her growth as a songwriter is evident here. But, perhaps most importantly, she's got a story to tell. And it's a story that she is intimately familiar with. Because it's her story.
Honeytree had gone about two years without a new studio album, giving her time to focus and hone in on what God wanted to say through her. The result is a bit of a concept album, as Nancy explains in the liner notes on the album's back cover:
"The Melodies in Me" took shape slowly. Over the past two years these songs, their arrangements, and the order in which they are presented all came together to form a unit in my mind. To hear the finished product is a tremendous experience after hearing it so long in my heart. This album tells the story of music in my life -- how it began, how it affected me, and how it has become an expression of my inner life. It will tell you a lot about Honeytree if you listen to it as a whole."
Listen to it as a whole. That's pretty much a foreign concept to people born after 1985. One of the most regrettable, negative side effects of the digital age is that recorded music is primarily downloaded and consumed in the form of singles. Albums are not listened to as a whole, thereby rendering the term “concept album” completely meaningless to many younger music consumers. But The Melodies in Me was, as Nancy stated, designed with a flow in mind. Thought and care were given to the song order. Taken together, the songs tell a story.
Our first clue that this album would be a very different collection of songs comes with the very first track. The Broadmoor Song is a well-executed, cleverly written big band swing piece that gives us a charming glimpse into the courtship and marriage of Nancy’s parents, Bill and Mary Henigbaum. The song also credits Nancy’s father for giving her a real love and appreciation of music during her early childhood:
Mary was a waitress at the BroadmoorBill was stationed in the Rockies just before the World War
The two of them were married there in Colorado Springs
I can’t think of a better place to start a sweeter thing
William had to go and fight the World WarBut then he came back home again to play the symphony
In the years that followed sweet Mary bore him
Cathy, Jane and Nancy
And the last was me
Well I could sit for hours on my Daddy’s kneeWhile he taught me how to read the score
Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Tchaikovsky
And I would always holler for more
I want to hear more, more
Sometimes in the evening they would come to our homeFriends of chamber music in the living room
Daddy’s send me up to bed but lately it seems I
Hear that music climbing up the staircase of my dreams
|Nancy's parents, Mary and William Henigbaum|
Nancy had already recorded this song (on January 7, 1977 at the Bronco Bowl in Dallas, Texas) for a live album. But it was a stripped-down, solo acoustic version. Here, it’s given the proper jazzy, big band treatment and we get to enjoy a swinging horn section as well as some tasteful piano work. By the way, once you hear The Broadmoor Song, you understand the album cover. The front cover shows Nancy (with her Crystal Gayle-esque locks) sitting on an elegant staircase inside the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, Colorado; the back cover is an attractive photo of the hotel’s exterior by photographer Paul Rey. Art Direction and Design was by Dennis Hill.
The next stop on this journey is a medley of songs that is beautifully arranged and performed. Theme From Largo, Symphony #5 is a classically-based instrumental piece that transitions into Melody, another song that delves into Nancy’s appreciation for music:
Melody, melodyCarry me far away
Back to my childhood days
Sitting for hours at the baby grand
Playing sweet tunes with a childish hand
Now, granted, as a sixteen-year old in 1978, tracks like The Broadmoor Song and Theme From Largo, Symphony #5 were probably not that exciting to me. But as I have aged and matured, my appreciation for this album has grown.
Up to the Mountains tells us about what Honeytree’s mom was up to in the late 70s. It’s another intimately autobiographical tune that leaves you feeling as if you know these people. You walk away from this album with the thought that you’d be perfectly comfortable sharing Thanksgiving dinner with the Henigbaums:
My mother lives in North CarolinaWith a heart for the hills and the folks who call them home
She helps out when she can
In spring she plants a vegetable garden
And when I come to visit she feeds me green beans
And she shares all my woes
And she knows I’m playing grown up and no one can see in meI am a child who has learned how to hide inside
Longing to live but not daring to try
My mother takes me off to the mountainsAnd they always remind me how small are my fears and how big is my God
My Father made the moon and the mountainsAnd He tells me that I am His own
Up to the Mountains features exactly the type of instrumentation you’d expect: mandolins, dobros, and the like.
Making Melody In My Heart seems to have been inspired by the words of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:19:
…speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord…
It’s got an easy flow, features piano and acoustic percussion, and sound like something Carol King could’ve recorded (if she’d been sold out to Jesus). It also boasts a killer ‘70s, Carpenters-esque ending if I’ve ever heard one.
Bittersweet closes Side One and gives us some insight into how Honeytree views her own songwriting skills.
BittersweetThat’s my melody
Not quite sad but not quite happy
That’s the way they come from me
That’s my specialty
Listen and I’ll make you smile
But you’ll be misty in a while
Nice piano work and soprano sax on this one. Some have said that it had a Joni Mitchell feel to it.
There were some familiar names involved with the making of this album. Al Perkins produced and engineered, while Buck Herring engineered the strings and horns.
Thief opens Side Two. The song finds Nancy wondering aloud about her place in the world and whether she’s making a difference in the Kingdom of God. She also complains in the song’s lyric about a tendency to give in to procrastination and complacency. Musically, it’s a typical Honeytree feel (gentle, acoustic ballad) but with an up-tempo instrumental thrown in that allows the string section to shine a bit.
Thief segues (no space in between) into His Majesty Reigns, another nod to Nancy’s love of classical music. This is what “worship music” would’ve sounded like in the Renaissance period, complete with clavinet, pan flute and tambourine.
His Majesty reigns from shore to shore, and in the stars aboveHis righteousness is only exceeded by His love
He is the King of Kings!
Father in Heaven, You’re the OneI’m in love with Your only Son
Mirage is one of the more interesting songs on the album. Nancy has said in a recent interview that the song was based on a romantic relationship that didn’t necessarily end well. It certainly made for a lovely tune, with a captivating melody and a lyrical theme that is universal. She sings it with a certain passion and intensity.
One Sweet Word departs somewhat from the album’s theme, and it’s the closest this album comes to rocking. It’s a full-throated defense of the Word of God, complete with a very active horn section. And this is the first time on The Melodies in Me that you actually notice hearing an electric lead guitar!
Rounding out this treasured collection of songs is one of the album’s true highlights, Diamond in the Rough. With acoustic guitar and strings circling and swirling over a fretless bass and bossa nova beat, Honeytree delivers a message that has encouraged thousands. A quick Google search will reveal lots of testimonials and blog posts about the positive impact that this song has had on so many people.
It’s been said that The Melodies in Me caught Honeytree at “the peak of her career.”
|Nancy "Honeytree" Miller today|
Nancy Honeytree, like many other Jesus Music artists, has never stopped singing and ministering. You can find a growing number of YouTube videos featuring Nancy ministering in local churches with the same simplicity and depth of sincerity that we remember so well from the 1970s.
Incidentally, Nancy’s note on the back cover of The Melodies in Me was very fitting. It said…
This album is dedicated with love to my parents, William and Mary Henigbaum, who started all the melodies in me.
I’d say we all owe a debt of thanks to Mr. & Mrs. Henigbaum.
|The Henigbaum Family in 1957. Nancy is lower left.|
Nancy Honeytree is the first artist with three albums on our list.