100. Bow and Arrow – John Mehler
BOW AND ARROW (1982)
Ten years removed from Love Song and ten light years removed musically, Bow and Arrow was an original artistic revelation in 1982.
I had just begun working for a small buy relatively aggressive Christian Bookstore in orange, CA called The Pink Lady. The store with odd name was kind of a crazy combination of ice cream shoppe, Bible bookstore, Hallmark store and music store. Half of the music department was dedicated choral and instrumental music with instruments, cantatas and several rooms for private instrument instruction. Yet, at the same time, the music department carried Bruce Cockburn, U2 and Bill Mason band along with Amy, Michael and Larnelle.
One of my first days working there the owners daughter was training me and had put a brand new album from Maranatha Music on the in store turntable. After several songs I mentioned that I thought this was, by far, the best Phil Keaggy album I had ever heard!
The album was “Bow and Arrow” by former Love Song drummer John Mehler and I bought the album that night.
The album was produced by Mehler with help from Bill Batstone who also played bass on the album. The muscial direction will always find comparison to Phil Keaggy because of Mehler’s voice having such an uncanny resemblance to the guitar virtuoso. Keaggy’s providing some of his best recorded guitar work helped to add luster to the comparison.
But there are to be found touched of early 80’s new wave and a dash of the Police. And within the framework of the 9 songs one will find nine brilliantly written, produced and performed songs. As pioneering Love Song was for the early Jesus Music days, Mehler’s Bow and Arrow was just as captivating, original and significant.
The album received very limited promotional and radio support as it was at this time that Maranatha Music decided to no longer do artist oriented releases and focus exclusively on worship and children’s albums (Psalty). This is one of the great travesties in the history of the industry that the album was never picked up by another label and was left to disappear into many a cut out bin. That same album now fetches a pretty penny on the open market as audiophiles and fans recognize what a great album it was. In fact, a recent HM Magazine countdown of the Top 100 Rock albums in CCM history listed Bow and Arrow amongst many of the great releases.
The album was essentially the work of a power trio featuring Mehler, Batstone and Keaggy with help from Randy Mitchell (guitars) and Bill Cobb (drums). The album kicks off with “Trust in the Lord,” an arty, medium tempo rocker driven by bass and drums with a jangly guitar finding it’s groove in the chorus. The huge wall of sound vocals in the bridge fully deliver as Keaggy’s guitar builds steam in the final minute.
The opener segues without a break directly into “Just Like You,” the most “Keaggy sounding on the album, reminiscent of the style found on “Play Thru Me.” This is the most upbeat and pop song on the album and should have been a huge radio success in a perfect world, though the guitar work probably would have been a detriment as CCM radio at the timw was fearful of rocking guitar solos, and this one definitely rocks.
“His Love For You” is classic British influenced rock with a great hook and has a touch of Paul McCartney from the Wings era. Again we find great, yet subtle guitar work work filling every empty space and Batstone’s other worldly bass lines driving a distinctly classic rock influenced pap number. Much more “arty” than anything for it’s day, one hear The Police and even Rush influences. What stands out though, is amongst the artistic and creative verse and instrumentation in a monster hook of a chorus. The backing vocal interaction with the lead as the song closes is brilliant.
The title track remains one of the finest rock songs in CCM history. Period! Great staccato guitar rhythm and Phil Spector “wall of sound” vocals drive a songs that builds brilliantly and passionately. Keaggy clearly earned his pay on the guitar solo here. I don’t know why but I’ve always wanted to hear Charlie peacock cover this song. In fact, Peacock’s “Lie Down in the Grass” with much heavier guitar work is the only CCM reference I’ve ever been able to give this song, and it does not do the song justice.
The worshipful “Be Strong in the Lord” adds a touch a traditional Church music with an organ in the instrumental bridge accompanying the great guitar work. There is a touch of Paul Clark here that fans may find as a good comparison. Nearl atmospheric and other worldly at time, the song doesn’t pound and build like the rest of the album, but more like envelopes the listener fully, surrounding them with the sound and feeling.
Alright is a groove driven rocker that sounded like it must have been a fun ride in the studio. Every once in a while a song just sounds like fun. If John Mehler ever reads this I can only hope my guess is correct. Like the rest of the album the song touches on the common Jesus Music theme of the Second Coming. This theme is woven into nearly every song, though it should be noted that this album may contain more direct Scripture quotations as part of the lyrical content than many other contemporaries as the bridge of this songs shows.
“Little Drummer Boy” in a rock instrumental version of the classic Christmas carol, but i would venture to guess that no one has done an arrangement quite like this one. Primarily driven by extremely well produced drums and electronic keyboards, the song eventually morphs into an amazing drum solo. I’ve always been a sucker for a drum solo and outside of few later released live albums by a few CCM rock bands, this may be the last real drum solo in CCM.
Some have complained that drum solos are indulgent, yet at the same time those same people never complain about a lead singer vamping or a long guitar solo as being indulgent and self-oriented. Yet it is the drums that Psalm 150 commands be used to praise the Lord. After the solo the song blows up into a full fledged rock instrumental for the final minute.
Returning to the eschatological undercurrent, “The Seventh Seal” follows with another instrumental that fits so well back to back with the previous.
The album’s closer in the beautiful worship song, “My Strength.” Again, the amazing wall of sound vocal approach makes a common worship song an angelic experience. Driven this time by keyboard strings and acoustic piano, My Strength is the perfect closer for this amazing project. Stunning, beautiful and God-centered.
It should be noted here that this is sonically one of the best albums of its day. The production quality is tremendous and is easily one of those albums that deserves a CD release. I really wish I owned it on CD. The sound is worthy and the album is more than worthy!
Mehler would go on to record another project five years later and a live album. In between there would also be two great instrumental jazz albums (I can’t recommend “Light the Night” enough), countless studio sessions, ministry opportunities, concerts, teaching, etc. But for one all too brief moment in CCM history, one of the truly great albums found a home on my turntable and remains “one of the greatest Phil Keaggy albums ever!”