IDLE CURE (1986)
Mike MacLane of Frontline records called me up when I was working at Maranatha Village and told I needed to come over and listen to something. Like I always did, I hurried over to their offices and we went into Brian’s office to listen to music. Mike told Brian had should turn it up really high. That was always a good sign!
Seconds later a piercing scream of “Breakaway” shook the office windows. Followed immediately be crunching guitar and a monster hook. the Foreigner like vocals and huge, melodic chorus had me hooked. That was my introduction to Idle Cure. Lead singer Steve Shannon would sing a David Edwards song at my wedding a few years later.Heavier and “cooler” than Petra, but not metal.
The popular phrase “men of their time” fits Idle cure better then most. Sure, the Def Leppard, Foreigner rock was for a specific era and many judge too harshly the time. What can’t be mistaken, though, is the fact that for the time, this album was pure gold. Great rockers mixed with radio ready ballads were the perfect hit combination. This formula was worked for optimum success by producer Bill Baumgart.
Enough keyboards to keep the record from straying into the big hair metal category and diversity in arrangements allowed for constant repeated listening. What was strayed from was the songwriting formula. Toned down verses, big hooky choruses, massive wall of sound backing vocals and tasty, just heavy enough guitars. Foreigner, Bon Jovi and the rest understood how this worked and so did Idle Cure.
The first ballad, Take It, was Frontline’s first big radio hit I believe. The Chicago influenced ballad would also be one of the first “background tapes” the company would have to produce as people wanted to sing the song during church. Six of the eight songs were rockers and two ballads. Again, the perfect formula for hit records. But it really boiled down to just how good the songs actually were.
INVITATION TO EAVESDROP (2001)
I was working at a Christian radio station in 2001 when a Cd hit the shelves I was completely unfamiliar with. A new artist on Rocketown record. His name was Shaun Groves. Nearly 10 years later that first album is still in my Zune. He would follow up with two other releases that were good, but no where near the complete success of this debut.
Groves has an uncanny ability to write a song that is completely originally and utterly familiar all at the same town. Acoustically written and arranged with electric instruments brought on top to punch up and fill out the track, you never lose the “song” with all the production tricks. That to say, it is all about the song. And these are some great songs!
The albums kicks off with “Should I Tell Them,” expressing the constant struggles of sharing the Gospel in all situations. Those struggles based mostly on our own failings and inabilities. “Damage Done” has such a great hook that if Jars of Clay recorded it, it would have been a number one hit with a bullet!
The centerpiece of the album is the piano focused “Welcome Home.” It has a real Marc Cohn (Walking in Memphis) vibe to it with a building arrangement that turns into a killer chorus hook. The common theme of asking God to make a home in our lives comes across much less trite than it may have in another artists repertoire. It’s the passionate vocals that lead to the believability and sincerity found in the song.
Other highlights include: Move Me, Satellite and the worshipful “Your Renown.” Another of the great CCM singer-songwriters that deserved better than the industry provided.
TALK ABOUT LIFE (1989)
Kim was that “girl next door” artist CCM was looking for. That is, if you lived next door to a really attractive girl who appeared to live on a farm and possessed nothing but jeans and an acoustic guitar who drove a 1950’s era puck up truck. Yeah…that next door.
After a decent debut that showed glimmers of hope for originality and artistic merit, Kim Hill’s sophomore release, Talk About Life, revealed those possibilities. Less Nashville pop and more female singer-songwriter. Less AC pop and more rock, country and folk. Hill was Christian music answer to the Melissa Etheridge/Meredith Brooks. jean wearing female rocker/songwriter.
Hill’s husky alto voice (think Chistine McVie, KT Tunstall)) was great fit to the earthy, acoustic rock on the album. What also worked is a strong lyrical content that went beyond the normal CCM categories, even if the themes remained similar. There is a passion in the content as well as in the performance.
“Snakes in the Grass” is one of the great songs in the history of CCM female artists. Her vocal flexibility and range mixed with a stark and edgy production makes this a stand out on so many levels. It’s a song Maria McKee would do, but with no guarantee of better results. The acoustic guitar accentuated by an incredible “rock” string arrangement is pure studio magic. Brown Bannister, more noted for his AC pop, outdid himself on this album.
The title track and Closer to a Broken Heart continue the great rock sound in the vein of The Pretenders and Tom Petty. In fact, there are really no weak moments on the albums and has remained her strongest effort, though her follow up also contained similar quality work.
Hill would later move in a more worship direction and an involvement with Women of faith type ministries. She has yet to return to this type of music and that is true loss for Christian Music. But even some 20 years later this album sound fantastic and not dated in any way.
THE INNOCENCE (1987)
Dave Perkins first solo project was released on the single greatest four release label in history, What? Records. the label released only four albums and all four made the list! It could be the label released impressively talented artists with thought provoking and challenging content, which has proven to be a death knell in the CCM industry. But fortunately for all this album was released.
Perkins made a name as a great musician and producer working with Mark heard, Steve Taylor, Randy Stonehill, Phil Keaggy, Over the Rhine, Squeeze and many, many more. The sound is American rock with a wall of guitars. And when I mean wall, I mean like the Great Wall of China type wall. The sound is HUGE!
I have always loved Perkin’s scratchy and straining voice. It always seemed to be on edge and pushing the limits. In fact, every time I hear Stonehill’s “Wild Frontier” album that Perkins produced, it always sound like Stonehill is trying his best Perkins impression.
The sound on the album will draw positive comparisons to the famed Steve Taylor lead Chagall Guevara album. This makes sense given that Perkins played guitar, co-wrote many of the songs and sings on that albums closer. But there are also touches of The Alarm’s epic anthem rock.
One may also here the pounding and thrashing of the short-lived band Passafist as well in a few songs. Again, no coincidence given that Perkins was also a driving force behind that band as well. One of the great joys of What? records was in the freedom with which the artists on the label were allowed to produce their art. There was no “go back and get us a single” mandate. This is clear as there are no ballads for CCM radio to be found. The closest thing to a potential single was a cover of Turn, Turn Turn. But even there the song arrangement was way too heavy for Christian radio at the time.
Here is another album worth trying to track down. The short-lived nature of the label did not allow for a lot of copies to be made available and they were quickly taken out of print as the label dissolved. Given that, it is still an AYSO.
NORTH BOUND (1983)
At first I had considered listing this album amongst those chosen as a “guilty pleasure.” Everyone, critics and fan, have these albums. The ones that you’re not supposed to like and that you know the hyper-critical snobs will scoff at as being “too commercial” or “too pop” or “too whatever.” But spending months compiling the list and listening over and over to many albums I came to the conclusion that the inclusion of Northbounds one and only album is not only well deserved, but that is more than just a guilty pleasure, but a great pop album that stands up well nearly 30 years later.
Touches of Hall & Oates, Toto, Chicago, The Eagles and even Bryan Duncan, Kenny Marks and the first Prodigal album (for the CCM fans) can be heard throughout this incredibly well produced project. For a debut (and unfortunately only) release this was one of the best produced projects with bright high ends, diverse musical arrangements and some killer saxophone.
The album kicks off with what could be the catchiest songs in CCM history, Dancin’ In the Aisles. This ode to a more expressive form of worship has such a monster hook that I mentioned the band’s name to a friend of mine in Christian radio and he immediately began singing the chorus despite not playing the song since around 1985. “Maybe Tonight” slows things down to something akin to a mid-tempo rocker by The Eagles with a bit more soul.
The nearly 6 minute ballad “What Do You Do” is reminiscent of Kenny Marks’, “The Party’s Over,” with a slow build that ends huge with great passionate vocals. The question raised about gaining the whole world while losing your soul is timeless and works well within the storytelling nature of the song.
The more “Seawind,” jazzy tunes work really well on this project. Songs like Evening Song, Life Without Your Love and When I Look In Your Eyes are great examples. “You Got Me Singing” is the “singing” version of Dancin’ in the Aisles. The albums closer, “Easy Street,” has a “Desperado” sort of feel with the solo piano arrangement builds as the song progresses.
This is a clear AYSO, though it may be nearly impossible to find. The album was released nearly 30 years ago and was not amajor hit. It, along with David Edwards’ “Get the Picture” and Dion’s “I Put Away My Idols” were released with a free LP of various Myrrh artists that is also a tough find.
NEW GOLD DREAM (1983)
Early in the 1980’s as Christian rock fans were holding out hope that Bob Dylan was “still one of us” and that Bono and the boys were for a real a small little band from Scotland appeared with several amazing records to their credit and were about to record a song for a little known filmmaker named John Hughes. But before the explosion that became “Don’t You Forget About Me” the band released a gem of a project called “New Gold Dream.”
Christian radio embraced the band even though there was limited information about the faith of any of the members based solely on the spiritually laced lyrics and an attachment with U2. A Christian bookstore in Southern California began carrying the album (that’s where I bought my first copy) and it charted in CCM Magazine and Billboard Christian charts.
After several European releases that sounded more “techno” than the album in question and with a constant reference point being Kraftwerk and Depeche Mode, the band changed direction by infusing more guitar and atmospheric keyboard sound with a more muscular vocal approach by band leader Jim Kerr. This album was the first real introduction the US had to the band and they were immediately labeled as another of the increasing number of “New Romantic” bands with hypnotic, repetitive melodies and other worldly vocals.
The album produced several hits including one that made inroads on to Christian radio called, “Promised You a Miracle.” The spiritual buzz words like “Belief, new life and miracle” set many Christian new wave kids off with excitement and support. The rest of the album continued similar themes as well. One of the most notable is Glittering Prize:
Shine On, Shine the Light on me,
In all of my Life so that much more I see
In the Light of his Love
In the Light of reflection
Oh what a world
Other songs continuing the same themes include Someone, Somewhere in Summertime, Big Sleep and Somebody Up There Likes You. For young Christian kids looking to gravitate toward anything positive and meaningful in its content, Simple Minds was a breath of fresh air and one worth embracing.
I would see them in concert three times including shows with The Call, The Alarm and U2. By the way, that little band from Scotland secretly sold over 40 million albums worldwide during its run!
WHAT IF (1986)
After a short tenure for one of the greatest bands assembled in Christian Music History, The Front, the group reformed with a few new members under the moniker “What If” and released one album on mainstream label, RCA. And what an album it is!
Bob Wilson of Seawind and session singer phenom, Tommy Funderburk, formed The front with guitar great Dann Huff (Giant) and produced one of CCM’s best albums ever. They toured for a short while and disbanded. Two years later the primary members (Wilson and Funderburk) recruited a few Seawind member and enlisted young guitarist Michael Landau to join on the record. the latter was a great choice and the Toto-styled music fit perfectly with Landau’s blazing guitar work. Landua was the one responsible for the great guitar work on Leslie Phillip’s debut project.
The album is filled with straight ahead pop and rock tunes in the vein of Toto, Yes , Genesis and Ambrosia. Great hook filled rockers and stunning, memorable ballads. A great example of the latetr is the wonderful cover of Tonio K’s, Perfect World.
When it comes right down to it, though, the album, like The Front, is all about Tommy Funderburk’s voice. He is easily one of the strongest vocalist to ever appear in CCM and he carries every song with his emotive, scratchy and spot on style. He effortlessly belts out both rockers and ballads with similar passions.
One must not look for common evangelical themes here as this was an album directed to the mainstream audience. there are plenty of spiritual and Biblical themes, but one must think this is a record aimed at Christians. Along with themes of love and loss in relationships there are more social conscious and spiritual themes in One Look, What If, When Right is Wrong and Ride the Hurricane.
Funderburk later formed the band “King of Hearts” and has released a few projects under that name. he has also continued in the CCM world with appearances on several projects on backing vocals and his own work in worship music.