Feeling Good (2017) and Healing Celebration (1997)
by Tiana Marquez
Reviewed by Anne Linstatter
Sometimes you need a strong, positive message—repeated with an insistent beat. That’s what the title song on Tiana Marquez’s latest album brings. “It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me, and I’m feelin’ good.”
Feeling Good is a collection of 16 pop and jazz songs guaranteed to lift the spirits.
Tiana is a singer and storyteller who has been a member of the CFT community since 2010. Three of her albums feature African-American spirituals; her fourth is Winter Holidays, and Feeling Good is her first collection to include jazz and other favorites.
For this album, she chooses songs that celebrate life and nature, from “birds flyin’ high . . . sun in the sky . . . rivers runnin’ free” in the title song to “I wish you bluebirds in the spring” as she gives us “I Wish You Love.” She romps through “Carolina in the Morning” with its line “morning glories twine around the door” and later slows down for “Summertime and the living is easy / Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high.”
In her interpretation of “Summertime,” she adds another chapter in which the baby is now grown: “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,” she sings, repeating the line and then singing “Sometimes I feel like a bird in the sky . . . I spread my wings and fly home.” The comfort of home remains in her mind.
Home for Tiana is southern California, where she earned a B.A. in Art and an M.A. in Art Education, but she has lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with her husband for twenty years. Naturally, “California Dreaming” wins a spot in the album, and after the last line she whispers the word “home.”
“I’m passionate about singing lyrics that resonate with me,” Tiana says.
Love songs add to the buoyance of the album: “Embraceable You,” “Unforgettable,” and “Our Love Is Here to Stay.” Tiana’s voice is rich and deep in “I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl,” where she sings with the playful flirtation of a torchlight singer, adding, “I don’t mean C & H.”
She’s a classically trained dramatic soprano, able to move from a lower registry to the high F with which she begins “Summertime.”
Humor is another theme of Feeling Good, from asides in “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey” (“I’ll learn to cook”) to the bounce of “Fidgety Feet.” My favorite is “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” which I hadn’t heard before: “The things that you’re liable to read in the Bible / It ain’t necessarily so,” and “Little Moses was found in a stream / He floated on water ’til old Pharaoh’s daughter / She fished him, she says, from the stream.” Skepticism about how certain Bible passages, especially those with women, are written and interpreted rings true for most CFT members.
Heartbreak is a must in jazz, and this album includes four blues pieces. Tiana’s voice is resonant with sadness in “Good Morning, Heartache,” concluding “Might as well get used to you hanging around / Good morning, Heartache, sit down.” She returns to nature in “Willow weep for me, bend your branches green / Along the stream that runs to sea,” but her pianist provides a counterpoint of lilting trills that keep the piece light.
“When October Goes” hits the most somber notes in the album, perhaps because it’s about a loss by death and someone looking out a window, dreaming of when “you [were] in my arms to share the happy years.” Tenderly, in a delicate soprano, Tiana sings “I should be over it now, I know / It doesn’t matter much how old I grow / I hate to see October go.” Then the piano moves into minor and a discordant note of protest, as if speaking for someone bereaved in the Covid-19 pandemic.
Of Tiana’s earlier albums, my favorite is Healing Celebration, released in 1996 in memory of her adoptive father, Richard Marquez. It begins with Schubert’s “Ave Maria,” which used to feel too Catholic for me, but after absorbing the Latin text through Tiana’s expressive voice, I can feel close to Mary now, especially in the words “Ora pro nobis, peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis.” (Pray for us, sinners, now and at the hour of death). I also like the prominence of a woman’s womb—“ventris, ventris tui”—in church prayer. It feels like the ancient worship of goddesses for the miracle of new life.
Tiana wrote two songs on this album, one a chanted prayer: “Infinite Mother, be near us . . . be with us . . . bless us, heal us, give us wisdom.” In the other original composition, she sets to music “It takes a village. . . .”
“How Come Me Here” is an African-American spiritual. Tiana includes it in this collection and in “Women in the Fields: Spirituals and their History,” her dramatic interpretation of a slave woman’s life laboring in the fields before the Civil War. “Dey treat me so mean here, Lord; I wish I never was born. . . . Dey sold my chil’ren away, Lord,” Tiana wails, ending in a series of high B notes that pierce the heavens.
When she performed at the National Women’s Music Festival in 1996 and 1997, one woman was so moved by “Women in the Fields” and other pieces that she gave Tiana a wall plaque inscribed, “He who sings prays twice.”
“Every time I sing, I do feel like I’m praying because I go within to find the space of grace,” affirms Tiana.
I had never heard “Deep River” before listening to this album. Tiana sings it with the longing of generations of enslaved people for whom life after death may look better than suffering. “Deep river: my home is over Jordan . . . I want to cross over into campground . . . that promised land where all is peace.” She communicates a despair and a trust that speaks to my heart when I’m discouraged about the state of the world.
Tiana uses a kind of lectio divina to perform “De Blind Man Stood on the Road and Cried,” another song that moves me. In an arrangement by Tiana with Michael Galloway, she repeats the central line 14 times; it grows from a quiet statement to a shouted demand and then ends in a whisper of awe. The only other lines are “crying ‘O my Lord, save me’” and “Crying dat he might see once more.” At one point, she repeats “he stood on the road” five times, evoking the long years of yearning. “And cried” then comes as a burst of pent-up feeling.
Listening to this song persuades me that we are all blind, standing on the road, crying “Save me”—all of us, from President Trump to Joe Biden to me and my friends. We may be crying out in different words. If we aren’t literally crying out to Jesus, we should be. Two summers ago, listening to this album while driving, I stopped at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and left a friendly note to President Albert Mohler, an opponent of biblical feminism: “We are both blind in some ways, crying out to Jesus.” I never heard from him, but I’m convinced that God sees both of us as blind ones crying out by the side of the road.
Tiana’s pure soprano and her sense of grace fill Feeling Good and Healing Celebration, both of which can be ordered directly from Tiana by contacting her via her website. Feeling Good can also be ordered from iTunes, Google Play or Amazon.
© 2020 by Christian Feminism Today.
Please request written permission before reprinting any part of this review.