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the sidebar » Blog Archive » The Welcome Wagon Amateur Hour Ethno-Musicology 101: “He Never Said a Mumblin’ Word”
The Welcome Wagon Amateur Hour Ethno-Musicology 101: “He Never Said a Mumblin’ Word”
By Sufjan Stevens
Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

I’m by no means an authority on the musicology of religious music, or any music for that matter. But I won’t wait around for an honorary degree from Union Theological Seminary to delve into a flighty dissection of the Welcome Wagon’s debut collection of cover songs and hymns, which, on closer inspection, begins to unravel an inspiring excursion through the landscape of the sacred and profane. I should know; I produced the album. And like many overly anxious producers, I’ve lately felt the motivation to impart my own brand of “rumors and ruminations” on some of the material I helped facilitate on this transcendental record. This sidebar post is meant as my own opinionated primer—a navigational brochure, per se—on the songs that appear on this new collection of “church music.” Happy journeys, godly listeners of the world!

words: traditional
music: Vito Aiuto
Welcome Wagon version: He Never Said a Mumblin\’ Word

If “Rich Man” is a song of protest, the traditional spiritual “He Never Said a Mumblin’ Word” is an exercise in silence, entrenched in one of the more sobering theological precepts: the death of God. It is no coincidence that it accompanies one of the darkest moments on the album. Adopting the somber call-and-response motif of a classic Negro spiritual, this trudging, lumbering funereal song explicates the story of the crucifixion with the leanest of exposition, meditating on Christ’s speechless defeat in the wake of an impending judgment. Diverse interpretations of this spiritual exist in anyone’s music library, ranging from the operatic to the romantic, often with acute variations on the lyrics. My favorite version comes from a soulful (and gorgeously sluggish) 1940s recording by the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet:

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