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Posted on Dec 7, 2013 |

Review: The Symphony and the Static

Review: The Symphony and the Static

The cover for "Fr. Pontifex's" new album. Indianapolis priest Fr. Claude "Dusty" Burns was a hip hop artist and spoken word poet before he began studying for the priesthood.

The cover for “Fr. Pontifex’s” new album. Indianapolis priest Fr. Claude “Dusty” Burns was a hip hop artist and spoken word poet before he began studying for the priesthood.

From terror to hope

The new album by Indiana’s Fr. Claude “Dusty” Burns (stage name: Fr. Pontifex) starts with terror and ends with hope.


The first track, The Overture, is a spoken word piece set to orchestral-inspired electronic music that sets the tone for the rest of the album. (See an evocative video of The Overture filmed by Chicago’s Spirit Juice Studios at


It’s the second track, No Mercy, that sets a tone of despair. It begins:


my mind won’t calm as I hear these drums
wachin’ from the tower tonight
something in the world just don’t feel right…

and continues to chronicle the spread of death everywhere:


… it’s relentless
seeps in every fiber
blood in the Ohio,
blood in the Tiber.
stained on the hands
and it won’t wash off
sear the conscience
continue to scoff….
where does it end?
time doesn’t stop —
the second hand moves
on a dead man’s watch


The music (still orchestral) sets an equally ominous mood as the song continues to the chorus, which uses sidelong allusions television programs to lament the way the culture of death seeps everywhere, from the crooked (“criminal minded”) to the law (‘five-o”):


Where the red fern grow
to the rest I know
dark wanna spread death
into the best live shows
hungry still feedin’ on survival
evil lives, criminal minded to five-o
where the head turns slow
to the rest i know
dark wanna spread death
into the best live shows
and when it stops
and the earth bleeds,
then it’s finished
no mercy.


The album’s 11 tracks cover a variety of subjects and a variety of rap/hip hop styles. Heart of Gold,”about love as the Church’s weapon in the battle of life. In My Shoes, a fast rap piece, is a look at the Christian life that challenges the listener “I dare you, try to walk in my shoes.”


Soul Meta, a spoken word hymn to radical love, has a Gospel vibe. Believe in Yourself, Fr. Pontifex’s answer to the obligatory anti-bullying song, is an anti-bullying song you’ll actually want to listen to. Instead of urging people to simply believe in themselves, the R&B-flavored piece tells them why they should:


…my peace in the storm
the water for my thirst
I believe in myself
but He believed in me first


Count the Cost takes a distorted line from a Bee Gees song and turns it into an extended poem about what it really means to be a saint. MindField delivers a warning about the dangers of thinking about yourself too much; Can’t Go Back, a contemporary retelling of the Prodigal Son parable, proclaims that it’s never too late to turn away from those dangers.


But it’s the last piece, Own the Night, that shows what Christian hope means. It doesn’t ignore the pain in the world (what authentic hip hope could?) but reframes it in a way the Church Fathers would recognize it, as the eternal battle between Satan (death) and the Risen Lord who has already conquered death:


He’s still hanging on the cross
as the world walks by it
and his blood flows out
and they ignore it or deny it
look around and observe
what do people live for?
so much static drowns
the knocking on your front door.
a gentle savior, a gentle man
to set our lives up right;
and death tries to move closer,
but He owns the night


Fr. Burns says he wrote the album last Christmas, when the joy of the season (the symphony) was often interrupted by troubles (the static). “It’s something that we all live with and I think my perspective as a priest and poet bring that out in a unique way,” he says. “I hope it speaks to the heart, not just the ear.”


It does.


The Symphony and the Static is available to download on iTunes and as a CD at Fr.


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