91. Pray Naked – The Seventy Sevens
PRAY NAKED (1992)
The Seventy Sevens (The 77’s)
What’s a band to do?
Despite the rampant rumors that even a cool label like Brainstorm, run by Ojo Taylor (Undercover) had to change the album cover, name of the album and white out the name of a song on one of your best albums, an album that was to re-introduce the band the CCM market after several years of not releasing any new music to the general public (Sticks and Stones was hits and left-overs compilation), it has been confirmed to me that the decisions to do so were the bands, and not the record companies.
The funniest part is that every consumer, retailer and rock radio guy knew the album, officially their second self-titled release, was really called Pray Naked. The record company sales people told their retailers, the consumers knew the band and what was coming and rock radio guys are about as hooked into the industry as anyone gets.
Oh well. My autographed copy has the name “Pray Naked” included in Michel Roe’s handwriting!
The point here is, that no matter what they call, it’s a freakin’ great album. It is easily the best “instrumentally focused” album of the band’s career and remains and personal and critical favorite some two decades later. Leader Michael Roe shows here why he is the most underrated rock guitarists in Christian music and one of the most diverse and creative songwriters in the genre.
The album kicks off (and I mean really kicks off) with the Zeppelin tinged rocker “Woody.” Like Page’s rock guitar styling that is blues oriented and groove defined, here Roe just rips through a killer groove that grabs by the throat. Roe is in his gutsiest and sexiest voice here with his growling baritone interchanging with his screeching higher range in sheer rock delight. the solo starts simple and then just devolves into a grinding and piercing romp.
As quickly as “Woody” ends, a softer Roe accompanied only by an organ like keyboard and beach Boy like backing vocals wisps through the too short and pretty “Smiley Smile.”
“Phony Eyes” hearkens back to the self-titled album with its more atmospheric sound and 60’s influenced melody. Here Roe’s guitar is more subdued, simple and sweet sounding. There is a Chris Hillman feel to the song that reminds the listener of The Byrds influence on Roe that was so obvious on the self-titled Island album.
“Kite’s Without Strings” may be one of the prettiest and melancholy songs in Roe’s repertoire. This also shows, like many of the other softer, more instrumental driven song, what a great band Roe put together with the addition of The Strawmen (David Leonhardt and Mark Harmon) and continuing to use the greatest drummer on the planet (hyperbole much?) in Aaron Smith. Here you just get lost in the music for minutes and then complain when it fades so quickly.
“Happy Roy” is just kind of pretty. The song of lost love and the desired return of the fleeing lover is set to such a wonderful melody and sweet guitar work that it belies the fact it is such a sad song.
The next two songs employ the image of rain to express the feeling of loss and need. “Deep End” finds Roe feeling the pain of loss in the lonely setting while “The rain Kept Falling in Love” finds hope in the refreshing nature of the same rain. the first is a straight mid-tempo rocker that fills the album while the latter has a touch of reggae back-beat and remains one of the more commercial sounding songs on the album.
The bass driven “Holy Hold” actually expresses a love found rather than a love lost. The positive approach to the lyric is matched by the more pop musical approach. The Brian Wilson influence is found here with even a touch of Robbie Robertson.
“Look” brings a return to a more Zeppelin or even Bad company blues rock vibe with an acoustic rock guitar under the electric guitar driving the rhythm. Smith is just song good at driving more the passion of the song with his precision on songs like this. Not about fills but about pounding and driving home the point of the rhythm.
Who cannot like “Nuts for You.” The George Thorogood riff and supporting raspy vocals are just too fun. Add the great acoustic piano by guest Roger Smith and this song just rises from the gutter in pure dirty rock pleasure.
The over 7-minute title track (sort of) starts off with a phone message of a heavily accented Indian giving Roe the Hindu pronunciation of the words “Pray Naked.” The rollicking song of significant length has a lyric lasting about four lines. It is, as expected, primarily an instrumental track where Roe and company show off their instrumental prowess. The surf style guitar is just hypnotic. Despite the controversy and limited lyrical content the provocative idea of being perfectly honest, transparent and “naked” before God is quite challenging and worthy of consideration.
“Self-Made Trap” closes the album with a huge rock sound and examines how we trap ourselves into our own sin. We need very little help to sin and are guilty not only of the action but of those things that lead us to those actions. We go willingly! I find the song to be lyrically one of Roe’s finest.
Despite controversy, the album found an audience (though never as large as this amazing band deserved) and remains a fan favorite now 20 years later.
EDIT: Mike let me know that it was the bands decision to make the artwork changes and white out the title, but the company. I am glad to make the change and to clear up a VERY COMMON characterization.