93. Circle Slide – The Choir
CIRCLE SLIDE (1990)
You can’t be serious!
Has it seriously been over 20 years since this amazing album was first released? It feels and sounds just like it was yesterday. It is really both staggering and sad to consider the amount of time that has passed and how, in some ways, things have stayed the same despite the changes going on around us.
After a popular response to The Choir’s more pop laden “Wide -Eyed Wonder,” the band returned with what many consider their finest outing. I am in the camp that believes “Chase the Kangaroo” is the bands finest moment and that album will appear much later, but I leave not doubt to the fact that “Circle Slide” is a brilliant masterpiece and one of the finest the industry has ever produced.
After the more upbeat and positive approach taken on “Wide-Eyed Wonder” (having a child will do that to you). Circle Slide returns to a darker, foreboding and introspective approach, both musically and lyrically. The struggles, difficulties and depression that were relatively absent from the previous album return here with an album full of real problems and pains.
This album may be all too real for many readers and, in some cases, make the listener very uncomfortable. For those married and struggling with the inter-personal relationship demands, this album is both a refuge and a rebuke. All the while the band was also suffering turmoil. Just one album after the much heralded arrival of female bassist Robyn Spurs, she left in the midst of recording this album. Daugherty replaced her in the studio while former bassist, Mike Sauerbrey, makes an appearance on the album’s closer. David Miner also makes a guest appearance.
This internal tension coupled with songwriter and drummer Steve Hindalong’s apparent personal strife’s make the album what it is. Stark, real and ever so inviting. These songs of loss, pain and struggle are so universal that the album remains one of the most personal and honest albums in CCM history.
I don’t know if the tensions lead to the more experimental sounds that fill the album, but one must consider how a musician may find solace in their instrument and guitarist and vocalist Derri Daugherty is at his most expansive and atmospheric on this release. The 7 minute opening title track is evidence of this while the more aggressive sounds found on “If I Had a Yard” also illuminate this possibility, especially having saxophonist Dan Michaels play through a wah-wah pedal to create an utterly unique musical expression.
The title track opens the album with over seven swirling and whirling minutes. Daugherty’s guitar not only creates a melody, but a mood, feeling and image. Michael’s subtle sax found way back in the mix, then brought forward later to build the mood, adds to the imagery that matches the album artwork perfectly. The song just sounds like Fall. But it’s here we find some of Hindalong’s most pointed lyrics where we find a golden crown the savior wore. Yet there is a sense of detachment between those who claim the name of Christ in their most personal and intimate relationships.
“If I Had a Yard” looks at the struggles within marriage by using the metaphor (even reality) of desiring something more of our residence. Money is tight and one can only afford what they can afford, but that does not keep us from believing that our relationship would improve if only our circumstances were different or, seemingly, better. Anyone who is married and struggling with finances can understand the rift and pressure these type of situations place on a relationship.
Yet with “Sentimental song” we find a man who truly loves with an earnest and forthright love the one God has given him. Hindalong not only writes a great song here but also plays some of his best drums on the album.
“Merciful Eyes” is one of the most beautiful attempts to reconcile the eternal struggle within man to understand how a righteous and perfect God can loves a wretched and sinful man and why He puts up with us. His mercy knows no bounds and this song attempts to describe this great mystery.
“Tear for Tear” is the much too short (a complaint about the whole album by many) love song that blends directly into the more commercial rock sounding “About Love.” This may be the happiest song on the album. The recognition that it is God that provides the love we desire through human relationships (especially within marriage) is matched by Daugherty’s more pop musical expression. there are love songs and songs about love; this is both.
“Blue Skies” returns to a more brooding and introspective content and musical expression. A combination of dreamlike images and stark realities created a song with layered textures message wise. This starkness is matched by the limited instrumentation during many parts of the song, with some moments possessing only drums.
The album closes with “Restore My Soul,” easily one of the best songs by The Choir. This Psalmists lament is a stunning display of combining a message and the musical medium it is swaddled within. The pain and ache for the restoring work of God is so universally real that it is inescapable. The longing and desire for fulfillment is so beautifully portrayed and is the perfect closing for this amazing project.
The Choir remains one of those bands that seemingly can do no wrong. They have been a model of consistency and artistic integrity for nearly 30 years! They have few equals and if there is ever to be a real CCM Hall of fame they would and should be amongst those included in its freshman class of inductees.