An aspect of the piece not as yet referred to is the fact that it gives voice, literally, to one of society's outcasts, albeit probably without his permission.
When I worked with homeless people in London it was recognised that some religiously-inspired service required that users of their services should join in a religious service, sing a hymn, listen to a sermon, as part of the deal for getting their soup & bread.
Some may recall that Tony Blair's Homelessness Czar wagged her finger at such provision, saying that it merely maintained people in a 'dependency lifestyle'. Some of those with their mouths stuffed with bread and warming soup couldn't have cared less, about the Czar or the hymns.
The original version, an extract from which was broadcast, lasts 25 minutes, not an hour. The changes in accompaniment to the looped recording of an elderly homeless man singing "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet" can surely only be imperceptible to those not actually listening. As it happens, this is even more the case with the later, extended, versions (as mentioned earlier, I much prefer the original). As the piece progresses the accompaniment is use to set off or highlight the emotional content of the old man's singing. It's not, for me, a question of the changes in the accompaniment automatically, or in themselves making it an engaging musical work, it's the way those changes enhance and point up the character of the singing and its singer.
Originally Posted by french frank
When it comes to the (now better known) version with the 'commentary' contribution from Tom Waits, I do feel Bryars makes to much of a meal of it, but I know I may well be among the minority of the work's admirers in that view.