Bible Belt Blues - 'House of the Rising Sun'
By Sylvie Marie & Staff
Husband and wife music ministry team, Harold and Paula Vega Vondenstein, of Bible Belt Blues, have only been producing music together as a couple since September of 2018. They acknowledge the hand of God at work in their lives. During 2019 they released two Christian albums, “I’m Not Ashamed to Be a Christian” and “My God, My God.” The duo won the coveted 2019 Josie Music Award for Gospel/ Christian Duo. Amazingly, twenty of their songs have received radio airplay (Cross 104’s Gospel Blues Hour Syndicated Radio Program, WQFX Gospel Radio, Country Blast Radio’s Multi-Genre Hour, and National Indie Radio (WNIR). Bible Belt Blues has also received extensive media coverage in print, TV interviews, and numerous national press releases. Their rendition of the traditional folk song "House of the Rising Sun" gives listeners a different perspective to contemplate.
Before diving into this review, it might be helpful to understand the history of "House of the Rising Sun." The song is a traditional folk song, sometimes called "Rising Sun Blues." It tells the story of a life in despair in New Orleans, the city also known as "The Big Easy." Historians have found that the song goes back to the 1800's and may have been written about a brothel owned by a woman named Madame Marianne LeSoleil Levant which means "Rising Sun" in French. The young man in the song is living a life drenched in sin: gambling, drinking, and promiscuity. Many artists have covered the song, and over the years there have been many variants with one common thread - the main character has lost his way.
Bible Belt Blues has done an excellent job capturing the song's musical core. Harold Vondenstein's performance is deeply sorrowful. In Bible Belt Blues' version, the woeful guitar is the only instrument and Harold's sound is weighted with reverb and effects that fill the air. The bass strings of the guitar resonate deeply capturing the heavy burden of sin. Over the slow 6/8 arpeggios, Harold's finger dexterity showcases bright solos that bend and cry. Vocally, Harold's gritty, blues-tinged voice is a perfect fit. In this rendition, Harold pulls out all the stops with intense expression. There is no walking away from this performance without feeling the depth of despair.
In choosing this cover song, the duo's visionary, producer and lyricist, Paula Vega Vondenstein heard repentance. Paula places a new emphasis on the text by removing the second to the last stanza and replacing it with a heart-wrenching guitar solo symbolizing the weeping young man. The verse removed is "Well, I got one foot on the platform. The other foot on the train. I'm goin' back to New Orleans. To wear that ball and chain." By removing this verse, Bible Belt Blues puts the focus on the weeping, redemptive guitar instead of the backwards return to sin. In addition, by removing this phrase, the song's last verse now ends on the role of the mother. "So mother tell your children not to do what I have done. Spend your life in sin and misery, in the house of the rising sun." Who weeps for a lost child? And who has a duty to warn their child about sin? The song ends with the beginning of repentance, the act of coming to terms with your remorse before God.
"It’s been the ruin of many It’s been the ruin of many a poor boy Ohhh…Oh My God I know I’m one."
In today's culture, sin is no different than it was in the 1800's. In fact, young people today are faced with the same addictions and more access to it. There is a resurgence of casinos and gambling addictions, drugs and alcohol are tearing apart families and society, and pornography has flooded the internet. In choosing this song, and putting the emphasis on repentance, Bible Belt Blues delivers "House of the Rising Sun" to the path of salvation for a new generation.
Rather than returning back to New Orleans with a ball and chain, the guitar weeps with remorse and the song ends with the vision of a young man crying out to God, "Ohhh…Oh My God, I know I'm one." Bible Belt Blues' cover of this traditional folk song captures the pain of a life in sin with a strong message that you can turn your life around if you turn to God instead of back to your ball and chain. And parents, warn your children.
For more information about Bible Belt Blues, please visit their website.