Rouse describes her new project as "softly produced inspirational songs for the foreground and background of your days". The vocal and piano-centered CD takes listeners on a soulful and lyrical journey of gratitude, reassurance, hope and wonder with heartfelt praises of God and all God's creation.
Earth Mama is celebrating the album's release by launching a national "Blessings of the Universe" tour. Her tour will include stops at the Heartwood Artisan Gateway off Interstate 81 in Abingdon, Va., on Nov. 16 and 1908 Courthouse in Independence, Va., on Nov. 17. Proceeds from CD sales will support Grayson Backpack Ministry, a regional program providing nutritious meals and snacks to needy children.
Rouse recently learned that the CD has been accepted for Grammy nomination consideration in the New Age Album of the Year category after recording brisk sales and receiving rave reviews from faith-based groups across the nation. Members of the Recording Academy can vote for the album through early November at http://www.Grammy.com (Cat. 30 - New Age Album).
A number of songs on "Blessings of the Universe" were commissioned to mark milestones for various faith-based organizations. Others were written as musical blessings or prayers for a well-drilling project in Africa, women's events, and a solar energy conference. Several musical short stories reflect on the "kin-dom" journeys of great religious figures, including Mary Magdalene and Saint Francis of Assisi.
"The Sisters of St. Francis, the Sisters of Earth, and other organizations inspired me with their depth of love and concern for people and places on the margins -- women who walk miles each day to carry their family's water, those with serious mental and physical health issues, and ecological unraveling," said Rouse, who wrote most of the songs at her home in the Appalachians. "These songs express in some way my gratitude for this journey. When I sang them at events, they caught on in a kind of folk song way and were then carried gently out into the world. The whole project felt like the unfolding of the Universe".
The album begins with "All Shall Be Well", a hymn conveying the message that, no matter the circumstances, "faith will lead us on." Earth Mama said she wrote the song to help overcome the disheartening realities of growing ocean acidification, river toxicity, and animal extinctions. The lyric, inspired by several quotations from Saint Julian of Norwich, is emphasized with marching percussion, a moving piano solo, and repeating of the line, "All Shall Be Well".
"We humans are not in charge," Rouse added. "Sometimes we think we are."
Based on a traditional African saying, "Women Hold Up Half the Sky" reminds listeners that women are one half of humanity and worthy of that respect everywhere. Rouse said the idea for the song came to her while she was helping Catholic nuns raise money to dig wells for villagers in Africa. The song opens with a moving piano solo.
Rouse's Norwegian roots are evident with "Your Beautiful Heart", a song that celebrates the "old traditions of singing blessings of welcome and goodbye". Rouse remembers being welcomed to a Hawaiian classroom with the traditional Oli chant. Her tune also was inspired by the Southern colloquial phrase, "Well, bless your heart."
Another song, "Sisters of Earth Blessing", was written for the Sisters of Earth network of women to celebrate two decades of healing the Earth. The hymn was used as a chorus for the group's biennial conference in Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana.
The album ends with "The Dream and the Journey", a song honoring the founding of Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross in Merrill, Wis. Rouse uses a heartfelt arrangement of piano, acoustic guitar, and vocals to celebrate the ministry's next 100 years. She spent hours researching the organization's history, ministry, mission and vision statements. It has already been used for funerals and celebrations.
"Blessings of the Universe" was recorded in Nashville, with Rouse serving as lead vocalist, songwriter and producer. Some of the selections feature stirring accompaniments by pianist/vocalist Catherine Styron, guitarist Pat McGrath, and percussionist Paul Scholten. Earth Mama plays grand piano on "Follow the Sun".
"Every recording project seems to have its own personality, and this one felt like an 'old soul'," Rouse continued. "Most of the songs reflect the inner and outer landscapes of the Blue Ridge Mountains. There is a good reason why the prophets of old went high into the mountains to experience deep spiritual wisdom."
The project and album-related performances have received rave reviews.
"I can hardly wait to let the teachers know about your music," said Sister Mary Beth Gray of Saint Coleman Catholic Church in Cleveland, Ohio. "Your newest CD is beautiful. I'm so amazed at your creativity with lyrics and with musical styles and ideas."
"I can't begin to even describe the highly favorable reaction among the Sisters to your performance," said Valerie Oltmanns, executive director of strategic communications for the Felician Sisters of North American in Beaver Falls, Penn. "Numerous Sisters are asking to buy your CDs."
"Your divine songs were all so assuring, truly 'mother-like' for the Earth's children and all with a kind of Aaron Copland-like dignity and stirring call to greatness," said Appalachian writer and naturalist Liza Field. "Your voice sounds pure and clear like a mountain spring, full of both minerals and sunshine. It's really ethereal, but also evocative of Nature's purity and goodness."
Earth Mama has been delighting audiences of all ages with toe-tapping music and green-living tips for more than 10 years. She performs regularly at a wide variety of venues across the nation, including grade schools, universities, church groups, retreat centers, conferences, museums, retail stores and green festivals. The artist weaves threads of science, spirit and art into each concert and continues to write inspiring music in many styles with one goal in mind: “Helping Heal the Planet One Song at a Time.”
The artist's songs have been recorded and/or performed by artists such as Maureen McGovern, Marie Osmond, and the McCarter Sisters. Her music also has been used extensively in educational venues and by international environmental and peace organizations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, UNESCO, and the International Earth Charter. In 1995, her song, "Standing on the Shoulders", was chosen as the theme song for a national event in Washington, D.C., celebrating the 75th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.
In 2008, she recorded “Virginia Beauty, A Love Song for the Commonwealth”, a song which has been widely circulated as a possible new state song. The Highland Camerata featured the song in its Minds Wide Open program honoring Virginia women in the arts. In 2011, the Virginia Choral Society of Newport News, Va., debuted a new eight-part choral arrangement for larger choirs arranged by artistic director James Powers. Rouse earned a bachelor's degree in home economics from Iowa State University and a master's degree in earth literacy from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in Indiana. Rouse and her husband, Richard, live in Independence, Va.
"I hope my new album brings individuals joy and peace, whether as a sing-along or an inspiring backdrop to life's activities," Rouse said.
Earth Mama will celebrate the album's release in Southwest Virginia with two special events. She will perform, lead music composing demonstrations, and sign her CD from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Nov. 16 (Friday) at the Heartwood Artisan Gateway off Interstate 81 in Abingdon, Va. She also will perform at 7 p.m. Nov. 17 (Saturday) at 1908 Courthouse in Independence, Va. Proceeds from CD sales will support Grayson Backpack Ministry.
"Teachers often report that they have students coming to school on Mondays without having eaten all weekend because there is no food at home," Rouse added. "'Blessings of the Universe' became a natural vehicle to raise awareness and funds for this critical need. So we're turning the release events into 'Blessings Parties' to fill lots of backpacks with nutritious meals and snacks for children."
Earth Mama's fall tour will include composing demonstrations at the North American Association of Environmental Educators in Oakland (Oct. 10-13); a performance at the Sisters of Loretto Motherhouse at St. Catharine College in Springfield, Ky. (Oct. 19); play shops at Nazareth Retreat Center, followed by a concert at Spalding University in Louisville, Ky. (Oct. 20); and a presentation during the "Call to Action" conference in Louisville, Ky. (Nov. 9-11);
"Blessings of the Universe", which retails for $15, is available at http://www.EarthMama.org andwww.CDBaby.com. Digital downloads are available at www.iTunes.com and other online retailers. For more information about the CD or the artist, call (276) 773-8529 or send an e-mail message toJoyce@EarthMama.org.