Singer-songwriter and folk musician Mark Erelli has produced a pair of albums for Lori McKenna, accompanied musicians including Josh Ritter and Paula Cole on guitar, appeared on Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s 2007 Soul2Soul Tour, and released 11 albums as a solo artist. But in “By Degrees,” a song Rosanne Cash calls “the most compassionate, vivid and non-preaching anti-gun violence song I’ve ever heard,” Erelli shines an essential and sobering light on a topic that remains among the most heavily debated in the country.
With a lyrical hook that suggests “you can learn to live with anything when it happens by degrees,” Erelli crafts a modern protest song that finds its power in poignant observation, perhaps the most chilling of which is the image of “little hands on little shoulders, children in a line… led away from school as the shots rang out inside.”
“By Degrees,” on which Erelli is joined by Cash, McKenna and Ritter, as well as Sheryl Crow and Anais Mitchell, will be available everywhere October 19th, with 100 percent of the proceeds from the song being donated to Giffords: The Courage to Fight Gun Violence, the organization founded by former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords. Giffords was critically injured in 2011 while meeting with constituents in her hometown of Tucson. The shooter in that incident killed a total of six people and injured 13. Giffords and her husband formed the group in the wake of the 2012 mass shooting at Newtown, Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, which took the lives of 20 children and six adults.
“I’ll never forget the first time Mark played this remarkable song for me,” Lori McKenna tells Rolling Stone Country. “It stops you in your tracks and unsettles your spirit at the same time. I’m honored that he asked me to sing a verse alongside these amazing artists. This song is an awakening I wish we didn’t need, but we so surely do.”
Cash has long been an advocate for stricter gun laws and has performed at numerous benefit shows to end gun violence. In the aftermath of the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas one year ago, the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter and essayist wrote an op-ed for The New York Times in which she criticized the National Rifle Association’s political lobbying efforts to loosen gun regulations.
Mark Erelli is on tour throughout the fall, including a November 29th show opening for Cash in his (and McKenna’s) home state of Massachusetts.