Translation Series #1: Broken and Spilled Out

This column was announced in March, but yes, it did take me this long to find an entry of the caliber I was seeking. This is a series of songs from other genres that would translate well to a Southern Gospel arrangement.

In 1984, after two or three years singing tenor for the New Gaither Vocal Band, Steve Green embarked on his solo career. His debut project included the mega-hits “Proclaim the Glory of the Lord” and “People Need the Lord.” Perhaps overshadowed in such august company, the song “Broken and Spilled Out” is nevertheless one of Green’s finest early works.

The song was penned by Gloria Gaither and Bill George. As is typical of a Gloria Gaither lyric, the lyrics are insightful and memorable. It starts with the story of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with oil:

One day a plain village woman
Driven by love for her Lord
Recklessly poured out a valuable essence
Disregarding the scorn
At once it was broken and spilled out
A fragrance filled all the room
Like a prisoner released from his shackles
Like a spirit set free from the tomb

The chorus and second verse discuss Jesus being broken and spilled out for us:

…Broken and spilled out
And poured at my feet
In sweet abandon, Lord, You were spilled out
And used up for me

The arrangement wouldn’t have to be changed much to work in Southern Gospel. But while a number of male voices come to mind who could do creditable renditions of the song, and while the song’s melody would adapt quite well to the power harmonies of a male quartet, the song should be taken in a different direction.

After all, you simply cannot outdo a classic on its own terms. Any arrangement that sticks too close to the original will spark distracting discussion over whether it is as good as the original. So if you are daring enough to tackle a classic, bring something fresh to your rendition.

Besides, most of Gloria Gaither’s lyrics are broad enough to be sung with equal ease by men or women, but I would posit that this is one of the rare exceptions. For a minute, let’s set aside the fact that we have known this song for over a quarter century as a male vocal solo. Both the topic of the first verse and some of the phrasing in the chorus (“In sweet abandon / Lord, You were spilled out / And used up for me”) would actually better fit a female solo.

With that point in mind, this song could not find a better home than in the capable hands of the Collingsworth Ladies. Their tight harmonies would give the song an entirely new vocal texture. The song would be as different from the original as the Gaither Vocal Band rendition of “Let Freedom Ring” is from Larnelle Harris’s mid-80s rendition. They can deliver a soft, tight blend where the lyric calls for it, yet their voices are also dynamic enough to deliver on the power lines that bring the message home.