Leslie Jordan has served as the perfect pandemic panacea. The character actor, best known for his roles on Will & Grace, The Help and American Horror Story, has met the moment with hilariously relatable Instagram posts addressed to his “fellow hunker-downers.”
The Emmy winner also takes his 5.7 million followers (swelled from 80,000 when the COVID-19 shutdown first started) to church each Sunday with a gospel performance with his friend, musician/songwriter Travis Howard.
Jordan has turned his love for these traditional hymns into Company’s Comin’, a collection of classic and original gospel hymns, out today (April 2) via Platoon. As the title suggests, he is joined by some mighty impressive company, including Dolly Parton, Eddie Vedder, Tanya Tucker, Brandi Carlile, Chris and Morgane Stapleton, TJ Osborne and Ashley McBryde, as well as Howard and fellow songwriter Danny Myrick.
Growing up in east Tennessee, Jordan found comfort in the songs, but he left the Southern Baptist faith after he felt unwelcome in the church as a gay teenager. Revisiting many of the songs decades later, Jordan, 65, has rediscovered the joy in them, as did Howard, his close friend of 30 years. “We were both brand new to Hollywood,” recalls Jordan, of their early friendship. “He was just this young kid running around Hollywood, straight as a board, but all the gay boys just loved him.”
Howard also felt distanced from his religion. “The church itself was not very embracing to me because I was a homosexual. And Travis said he felt the same way just because he grew up in a very strict Pentecostal [church],” Jordan says. “So we sort of walked away on our own. And then, all of a sudden to come back to these hymns, you get older and you don’t have an ax to grind any longer. [There were] no bad feelings, just wonderful feelings washed over us.”
That sense of joy is palpable on the album. Jordan brings an enthusiastic verve to his singing and is a genial emcee throughout, overseeing the proceedings and often cheerleading and testifying from the sidelines.
Parton was the first to sign on to collaborate after Jordan met her through her costumer. They perform “Where The Soul Never Dies,” with Parton bringing in her family to sing backgrounds.
Jordan recruited Vedder since he had known the Pearl Jam singer’s wife, Jill, for years. Vedder performs on a gorgeous original, “The One Who Hideth Me,” written specifically for him by Myrick and Howard.
“Eddie took it and had it for quite a while,” Jordan says. “And it was so cute because Jill would call and say, ‘He’s in the studio. That’s a good sign.’ He put his own stamp on it. When he sent it back to us, we were just waiting with bated breath and I just burst into tears. That one really gets to me.”
Jordan came up with a list of artists he wanted to sing with and direct messaged them asking, “Would you sing a hymn with me?,” he says. “The Stapletons sent me their home number and said ‘Give us a call. We want to hear about this.’ And there I am just chattering away to Chris and Morgane Stapleton. You know, just like they’re my best friends.” The couple perform “Farther Along” with Jordan. “I’m telling you, Morgane sings her solo and then Travis hired a wonderful horn section out of New Orleans and they join in and then when Chris comes bellowing in, I almost wet my pants,” Jordan says.
Divine intervention seemed to also play a part, at least when it came to Tucker. “Travis, Danny and his wife and I were all at dinner in Nashville,” Jordan recalls. “We started singing ‘Delta Dawn’ and we thought that’d be fun to record that. Well, guess who direct messaged me made the very next day? Tanya herself. She said, ‘Here’s my home phone number. Give me a call.’”
Because of the pandemic, Jordan wasn’t physically in the room with any of the artists. He recorded in Southern California and sent his recording to the artist, usually in Nashville, he was duetting with. He was then patched in to their recording sessions, allowing ad-libbed give and takes, as he and Carlile delightfully share on “Angel Band.”
Jordan doesn’t know yet if he’ll be performing any of the tracks live, but Parton has planted the seed. While recording her part, Jordan recalls, “She said to me, ‘There’s a harmony part that nobody could quite get and I did the harmony on top of myself. So when we do this live…’ Well, that had never crossed my mind. I thought, ‘I’m going to just sh-t and fall back in it. What do you mean live? I can’t get up there and sang live.’ I’d sing and Travis would say, ‘Thank God for Auto-Tune.’”
If the thought of performing the hymns live rattles Jordan’s nerves, he says he was surprisingly unafraid in the studio. “I think I was too stupid. In retrospect, you look back, you think, ‘My God, I was fearless,’” he says. “I just remember in church that they would say, ‘Well, honey, sing out because you’re singing for the Lord.’”
On Company’s Comin’, Jordan was also singing for his father, who died in a plane crash when Jordan was 11. “He was not the minister of music [at church], but he sang in the choir and he might as well have been,” says Jordan. “He was a wonderful, wonderful man. I lost him and all of these songs. You know, I’d tell my mother, ‘We’re [including] “Sweet By & By”’ and she’d say, ‘That’s your daddy’s favorite song.’ Then I’d say I couldn’t remember ‘Where the Soul Never Dies’ and she’d start singing every word. So [the album’s] a wonderful gift to my family.”
And Jordan wants it to be a wonderful gift to the listener at a time when every soul can use a little nourishing. “This album has been such an eye-opener, examining what do I believe and what is it about these songs that gives people comfort. I decided what I would do personally is put them out there. I’m not going to proselytize. I’m just going to put this beautiful music out there and you take whatever you can from it. That’s the healing power of music,” he says. Then, realizing how much like a preacher he sounds, he dissolves into a fit of giggles, adding, “Woo! Listen! Brother Jordan’s in the pulpit today.”