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In recent years, the music divisions at Deseret Book have made highly acclaimed, top-selling albums of classical-leaning musicians such as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, pianists Paul Cardall and Josh Wright, and violinist Jenny Oaks Baker.
With its newest signee, 28-year-old Calee Reed, the Utah-based publisher is trying to expand its reach to a younger audience, tempting them with a fresh, modern voice that still adheres to Mormon teachings.
Reed is a San Diego native who now lives in Rexburg, Idaho, with her husband. Her debut album, "The Waiting Place," was released by Deseret Book's Shadow Mountain Records earlier this month.
"What interested me most about Calee was that she had such a fresh sound," said Bob Ahlander, Deseret Book's director of music. "Her voice is so expressive and she clearly has something important to say in her songwriting."
Her lyrics often belie the folk-pop sounds of swirling piano and muted electric guitars that accompany the words. While the music is often up-tempo and written in a major key, Reed sings about the defining event of her young life.
On Jan. 24, 2011, her mother died at age 50 from colon cancer.
Up until her mother's diagnosis, five years earlier, Reed had dabbled in writing everything from pop to grunge-inspired rock. As a teenager, she and her sisters performed in singing groups all over Southern California.
But learning her mother, Rita Schroeder, had cancer changed her focus.
"[My writing] comes from a completely different place now," Reed said. "Driving home from the hospital, listening to Christian music was the only thing that kept me driving off the road." Writing about her mother and her family's crucibles helped her deal with the overwhelming strain of caregiving. Anyone who has watched a family member battle cancer endures brief moments of hope that are often dashed by cruel realities.
"It was difficult to reconcile a loving, merciful God with the God that would let this happen," Reed said.
But even as Reed wrestled with difficult questions about faith, her mother never wavered. "She always said that she wished she knew what God was trying to teach her," Reed said. "Her last words were testimony about God's love."
Reed found solace in specific sections of the Doctrine and Covenants, a book of scripture containing revelations from God to Joseph Smith and several other Latter-day Saint prophets.
Reed said she found power in the prophecies written by Smith while he was a prisoner in the jail at Liberty, Mo., in 1839
Reed worked on the contemporary-sounding album with local producer Aaron Edson, who made Shadow Mountain Records' "Popcorn Bopping," a hip-hop-inspired kids album, in 2011. They worked from May to August last year, even before the record deal.
It was Sam Schultz, Reed's brother-in-law and a local promoter, who brought the finished album to his friend Ahlander at Deseret Book.
Schultz said the two had met at lunch to discuss other matters, and at the end, he told Ahlander that Reed had recorded something that Shadow Mountain might be interested in.
"I know Bob gets pitched a lot," Schultz said. But Reed's album had "a fresh kind of feel." The two listened to the album in Ahlander's car, and Ahlander was impressed.
Through the month of May, Shadow Mountain Records is donating all of the iTunes proceeds from Reed's single about her mother, "She Put the Music in Me," to the Huntsman Cancer Institute. Reed insisted that the song a testimony of God's love and that she will be with her mother again be used to help those who need a lifeline.
For a cause
During the month of May, all proceeds from iTunes purchases of "She Put the Music in Me" will go to the Hunstman Cancer Institute. Go to http://itunes.apple.com/us/album/the-waiting-place/id524108715