Songs We Love: Tyson Mostenbocker, 'In Your Name' A singer-songwriter's walking pilgrimage following his mother's death resulted in a crisis of faith — and an emotionally poignant song.
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01In Your Name

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Songs We Love: Tyson Mostenbocker, 'In Your Name'

Songs We Love: Tyson Mostenbocker, 'In Your Name'

Tyson Mostenbocker /Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Tyson Mostenbocker

/Courtesy of the artist

Doubt is the lens that refocuses purpose. This is especially true of faith and when it's tested — or rather, when an event or an environmental shift brings the core of one's being to the fore. After his mother died, singer-songwriter Tyson Mostenbocker walked six hundred miles of coastline from the Pacific Northwest to San Francisco in memory of her; he also spent that time in a conversation with God, wondering if anyone was listening at all. Letters To Lost Loves is a strongly-formed debut album from someone who's been through the ringer spiritually, physically and emotionally.

"In Your Name" finds Motsenbocker somewhere between an epistle and an epiphany. He opens the song and the album with a vivid image of his mother ("You were loudly living / On your frail ninety pounds"), but with an acoustic guitar tuned three steps down and barely strummed. The weight hits heavy as he struggles to finish his father's buckling defeat: "Son, I don't think Jesus in the business of healing anymore." It's here that Motsenbocker turns to the church, and darkly but succinctly admonishes the ways in which His name is used to justify our own morality instead of tending to the suffering within the congregation:

Well maybe he is occupied with other people's wars
Or he's organized militia to fight the war on Christmas
Or maybe he's protecting our children from the gays
Who have promised to destroy this utopia we've made

Letters To Lost Loves (Tooth & Nail Records 2016) Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Motsenbocker is following in the tradition of questioning and critical songwriters — like Larry Norman, Steve Taylor, Leslie Phillips (before she became Sam) and David Bazan under his Pedro the Lion moniker — who inhabit the shocking prayer of the 13th century mystic Meister Eckhart: "God, rid me of God." It's not a rejection of God, but of how the world interprets Him. Readers of The Bible see this over and over again in the apostles' letters to the young church of the New Testament, trying to re-center the purpose of faith. And we hear this frustration in the echoing, dissonant cello that sweeps through Motsenbocker's bitter refrain, "In His name."

But as "In Your Name" builds piece by piece, with strings and ambient guitar, Motsenbocker returns to the pain of losing his mother in a stunning climax:

Well I hear that you've been speaking through the man on the TV
And you've helped the Dallas Mavericks with their field goal percentage
So when my mother's doctor calls again with more bad news
It's an honest heart's reaction — oh, who, my God, have you been listening to?

This is not an easy song. It's akin to "Just a Closer Walk With Thee," a gospel standard often used to close out church services, but which is far darker and more desperate than many remember: "If I falter, Lord, who cares?/ Who with me my burden shares?" the songs asks, and its unknown author responds, "None but Thee, dear Lord, none but Thee." Motsenbocker leaves the question wide open, needing to walk just a bit longer.

Letters To Lost Loves is out on March 4 on Tooth & Nail.

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Letters To Lost Loves
Tyson Mostenbocker
Tooth & Nail Records

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