An Indie Call to Worship

IN THE 17TH century, Thomas Brooks published the devotional Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, which he hoped would serve as a “salve for sores” and a “remedy against malady,” to provide those who face hardship with nourishment, support, and cheer to continue God’s work in themselves and the world.

It’s no coincidence that The Welcome Wagon borrows Brooks’ title for its second LP. In unsettling economic and political climates, the married gospel-folk duo of Vito and Monique Aiuto write songs that offer a balm of spiritual medicine to heal their congregation and wider audience.

Before the Aiutos gained a musical presence, Vito worked at a Presbyterian church in Manhattan and was a minister to students at New York University. Six years ago he helped found Resurrection Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Brooklyn, where he and Monique continue to serve a young, diverse congregation.

In their ministry at Resurrection, they released their first album in 2008 (Welcome to The Welcome Wagon); close friend and indie music icon Sufjan Stevens helped record and produce it. The album was met with high acclaim and sounded like a natural extension of Stevens’ own catalogue. With a popular musical ally and an overtly spiritual foundation, The Welcome Wagon yielded an unlikely coupling: the hip and the religious.

In a New York Times article titled “A Congregation in Skinny Jeans,” Vito confronts this, saying that while he may fit the “cool” bill, it’s an unhelpful way to describe a church community. Despite his tweed jacket and gentleman’s cap, he’d prefer to be known for his personhood and for speaking honestly.

This is where Precious Remedies steps in. Far from a show of hip pretension, the Aiutos write music hoping to spur a connection between people and God. The album resembles a worship service, revolving around a liturgical structure to provide spiritual wholeness.

As such, Precious Remedies begins with the confession, “I’m not fine / you’re not fine / we’re not fine.” As the anthem repeats, it slowly moves into a somber setting for the absolution, “Lamb of God, you take away the sin.”

Throughout the 13 songs, the liturgy frames the story while the assurance of God’s provision drives the plot. Movements flow from love of the divine to the love of human relations, from atonement with God to fellowship with one another.

After a reworking of popular Christian musician David Crowder’s “Remedy,” where the theological tension of already/not emerges, the duo takes the gift of Christ’s presence to make amends in the present in the lushly beautiful “Would You Come and See Me in New York?” Here is yearning to rekindle a parental relationship that has grown distant. In raw honesty Vito sings, “I’m not mad, the past is through / I don’t need answers, I just need you.”

While Precious Remedies showcases a variety of styles and instruments (folk instruments, horns, a choir, and lyrics from Charles Wesley to The Cure), its re-creation of a weekly routine allows it to feel both familiar and fresh.

As the album comes to a close, a lively benediction concludes the journey in peaceful expectation. “God be with you till we meet again,” they sing, as organ accentuates the catchy melody. As the postlude track “Nature’s Goodnight” swells, church has ended.

And as good worship services will, the listener is left feeling that the gospel call to “go into all the world” seems both possible and exciting.

Joshua Witchger is online editorial assistant at Sojourners.

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