“Veni Emmanuel” by Robert Deeble

Posted: December 12, 2010 in Dark Art Cafe
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Robert Deeble is the man behind indie folk rock albums such as This Bar Has No One Left, Thirteen Stories, Earthside Down, and Days Like These and this Advent he’s released a cover of the ancient hymn “Veni Emmanuel.”

This particular track comes from Deeble’s studio as a gift to his listeners: a free download. And this gift he titles artistically with a painting by Jen Grabarczyk, “Again This Place.” The rusts, blues and greys of Grabarczyk’s abstract expressionist painting harmonize well with this low key, earthy, contemplative interpretation of “O Come O Come, Emmanuel.”

However, Deeble’s haunting guitar-work on this cut doesn’t simply cover or riff on an old tune. He uses his arrangement to nuance that old Hebrew word עִמָּנוּאֵל, Emmanuel, “God with us”. The music is gritty and dark yet shot through everywhere with light. In it you hear the tension and horror of Herod hunting down infants to kill the coming King of the Jews – chaos, confusion, feedback – but you also hear the blinding promise of the coming Light, the Wisdom from on high becoming flesh in Christ – the refrain “Rejoice” rising.  

As Deeble notes on his site, the song stems from a 15th Century processional of French Franciscan nuns. And the lyrics he sings, along with Tara Ward’s beautiful accompaniment, are drawn from various antiphons from the 12th century that were translated from Latin in 1851. Deeble writes that he used an Antaries Guitar – an odd no-name French electric given to him in the mid 90’s by Miles Williams, an Anglican priest who gifted the guitar to Deeble for playing his parish. The Antaries guitar is played through a 1965 Vibrolux (no pedals), and layered with a Kimball pump organ, dated 1897, and one Yamaha organ from the 70’s (on vibe setting). The result is a sound that is at once ancient and ultra modern, a sound that rounds well-worn words and rings them anew.

Below is a video in which I’ve taken Deeble’s incarnation of the song, a prayer for God to be with us, to come to us anew, and I’ve layered in images by Jonathan Castellino and photography by my wife Samantha, taken in our new home of Newfoundland. As Deeble takes an old hymn and gives it flesh in modern music, I want to take that freshly breathed prayer and sing it over this place where I live, from St. John’s to the Bacclieu Trail, Middle Cove to the Bonavista, Grand Falls-Windsor to Cornerbrook and as far north as Lans aux Meadows.

At the heart of the song is a call for Light to come, for Wisdom to walk with us. And since the song came as a gift to me it only seems right to pass it along to you so you can join your voice to a rising chorus: Come, Dayspring, come and chear our spirits by your advent here…

  1. that’s really beautiful, sam. thanks for sharing it online.

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