Home > CCM, Christian Music, Christian Pop, Christian Rock, Greatest Albums, Jesus Music > 50. Hand to the Plow – Paul Clark

50. Hand to the Plow – Paul Clark

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HAND TO THE PLOW (1977)

Paul Clark

When conversation inevitably move to discussions revolving around the formation of CCM and the Jesus Movements “Jesus Music” world, many names take center stage. Larry Norman, Barry McGuire, Annie Herring and Randy Stonehill tend to be the focal point of conversations with the list of artists that were birthed at Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa like Love Songs, Mustard Seed Faith and Daniel Amos.

But when conversing with the artists mentioned above, the name most often brought up is that of  musician extraordinaire, Paul Clark. Noted as one of the finest (possibly the finest) songwriter of the time and a world class musician of his own, Clark was instrumental in bring CCM to a whole new level of quality and acceptance.

After four very well received and reviewed projects, Clark nearly single-handedly raised the bar to a whole new stratosphere with “Hand to the Plow.” Putting down his acoustic guitar and worship framed lyrical and musical focus, Clark joined forces with some of the finest musicians to ever grace a CCM project and invented the first real “classic rock” Christian album.

Seven minute jams featuring precise piano, swinging sax and grooving guitars, the album is brilliant from the opening piano interlude to the fading final string note. While the rest of the Jesus Music world was still peddling relatively safe and “dated” country rock and folk, Clark was piercing the speakers with R&B/Soul rhythms and progressive rock prowess unforeseen at time.

From the grainy cover of a wrinkled, weathered and worn hand of old man grasping a wooden plow to the stellar production quality, there is very little that was not groundbreaking. Clark’s voice was never this edgy or passionate in his previous releases. There is more Moody Blues, Pink Floyd and Steely Dan here than in the rest of CCM at the time combined.

Even listening to this album as I write this review I am in awe of just how much I feel like I am listening to any other classic rock album of note during the same time period. Bobby Cotton’s production is so rich and textured and the songs are not watered down for Sunday Morning consumption. This was real, contemporary and utterly relevant; well before those words lost their meaning in the modern Church movement.

The album features what would later become the bedrock of the amazing jazz group, Koinonia. Hadley Hockensmith, Harlan Rogers and Bill Maxwell were joined by unheralded and uber-guitarist Curt Bartlett. But it would be Jim Hochanadel’s amazing saxophone work that would stick with listeners over three decades later.

The album kicks off with the seven minute title track that simply rocks. It would easily rank among the great Christian classic rock tunes if there were any that were even in its category. Borrowing from the Biblical image of the need to keep moving forward in our work for the Lord and not looking back to our former lives, Clark pounds his way through this epic. Here the guitar and saxophone work simply steal the show. But it is all based around Clark’s killer piano work.

Before this time the thought of an seven minute epic rock song that featured more instrumental time than lyrical time was simply unheard of. This was entering into the domain of bands like the Moody Blues and even the Allman Brothers with long instrumental breaks and, for lack of a better term , “jamming.” This was done live by the likes of Phil Keaggy, but was a real rarity on a studio recording. Clark’s ability to keep the musical interest with such a long instrumental song (especially to lead the album) is proof of his musical genius and great songwriting and arranging.

Things slow down immediately with the classical guitar tinged, “Spring of Life.” nearly liturgical in its feel and arrangement, this beautiful songs works as a perfect interlude between the two rock numbers that make up two of the first three songs on the project. This style would soon become the centerpiece musical expressions for artists like John Michael and terry Talbot.

“All I Need” is pure Jazz/R&B genius. The funk driven female backing vocals would sound like Riki Michelle of Adam Again 20 years before. In fact, every listen to this song reminds me of just how much Gene Eugene was influenced by the same music that Clark delivers here. Everything from the funky keyboard rhythm (think early Stevie Wonder) and great Hammond organ solo to the funky guitar solo and thumping bass are pure funk/soul magic.

Another brilliant and more progressive rock sounding classic is “Shipwrecked.” Introduced by a beautiful orchestral arrangement, the song soon moves into something akin to the best from Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” Slow and passionate like “Comfortably Numb,” Clark’s strong higher register is accompanied by, of all things, the harmonica. what would seem out of place, works perfectly here as the song turn more inspirational than dirge-like.

The smooth jazz many remember Clark for is most evident on “Love You So.” Clark’s voice rangers from a Phil Keaggy quality to almost a Stephen Bishop quality. The organ again finds itself the central driving force to this beautiful ballad before the amazing sax work takes center stage as the more jazz influence is delivered.

“Help Me to See” would have fit on any Glass Harp album and is the most Keaggy-like on the project. The song is a slow build rocker that features some of the finer blues-influenced guitar solo work for the time. Moody and darker than most CCM at the time, the song is a Psalmists plea for direction and security.

Before the world of CCM discovered that automatic radio airplay that “wedding songs” provided an artist, Paul Clark wrote one of the finest wedding songs ever written. Ever.

The medley, “Woman…The Man That I Love” is six minutes long and features two separate songs that are merged to create a cohesive single expression. The duet, sung with Kelly Willard, is written from the perspective of both the woman and the man as the song changes musical expressions as each sings their glorious parts. The songs do blend in the final chorus as both sing simultaneously this stunning song.

“Now and Forevermore” shows Clark’s growth in the use of orchestral arrangements. here, not only does the orchestra support the melody, it carries the entire song. More classical than most ballads, the song is a worshipful reminder for communion and an expression of the covenantal faithfulness of God that is remembered in the sacrament.

The album closes with “One Final Word,” introduced with a harp and orchestra. the sound would later be more consistently applied by the like of Jeff Johnson.

This is as nearly flawless an album as any from the Jesus Music era. It is also gives reason why many of Clark’s peers hold him in such high regard. Not constrained to the parameters of common Jesus Music or CCM at the time, Clark’s innovative and original musical expressions made him a favorite among fans and artists.

He, for some reason, never received the long-term recognition he so richly deserved, as this album plainly presents. If there is an expression greater than “An Album You Should Own,” this album would deserve that classification. Though other Jesus Music albums will be ranked higher based on historical significance, very few can compete with this album.

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  1. Don
    July 5, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    Wow – didn’t see that one coming. I think I have this on a set of Clark’s cds. But the jazz sound made me lose some interest. I will have to go listen again.

  2. Paul
    July 6, 2011 at 12:19 am

    So glad to see your pick of someone who rarely gets mentioned when one hears folks talking about the upper echelon of Christian artists. I never could understand this, because it seemed to me he was always way ahead of the curve in what was going on musically in Christian circles, and also was top drawer in his musicianship and songwriting. I assumed it must be bias on my part since I’m from KC and attended House of Agape Bible studies where Paul was one of the elders, so it’s good to hear your take as well as that of other musicians. His body of work is extensive (he’s still releasing new material) and consistently very good. A couple of his albums that don’t make your list but which I like almost as much as this one are Come Into His Presence (Keaggy’s guitar work on He’ll Do The Same alone would be worth the price of the LP, but there’s so much more.) and Drawn To The Light.

  3. Shawn McLaughlin
    July 6, 2011 at 2:57 am

    AMEN, BROTHER! I didn’t see it coming either, but am a huge fan of this record. Aim For the Heart got way too Doobie-esque, but this finds that superb balance between pop, jazz, R&B and rock that Steely Dan made so inviting. “I Need You” is one of my favorite Christian songs of all time.

    • Don
      July 6, 2011 at 3:37 am

      I am the happy owner of the Minstrel’s Voyage volumes 1 and 2. This album is smack in the midst of Volume 2 along with Good to be Home and Change in the Wind.

      Just cause I don’t get into his jazzier stuff doesn’t mean I don’t like his stuff. I have loved ever since Songs from the Savior Vol 2 (then I found vol 1 and went from there).

      Favorites: Songs from the Savior Vol 2, Come Into His Presence, Good To Be Home, and a few killer songs from the next few albums, including a few cuts from Aim For the Heart.

  4. Shawn McLaughlin
    July 6, 2011 at 3:05 am

    Sorry….”All I Need” not “I Need You”. Pretty sure I made a Riki Michele/Adam Again comparison to this song in a comment on this blog. Just shows that great minds think alike!

  5. TMc
    July 6, 2011 at 3:15 am

    Bravo! Still love this album. I was able to see Paul in concert a couple of times, once with a band, later with Phil Keaggy as a duo. The band show was phenomenal. I talked to one of the band members (never did figure out who) later at a food concession for nearly a half hour and was in awe of how friendly and humble he was. Another friend talked to Paul and was convinced he was even more humble. Paul even helped him with a guitar purchase years later. A great album and a great guy.

    • Don
      July 6, 2011 at 3:40 am

      Hmm – humble- That makes sense.

      I bought some cds directly from Paul and he signed the shrink wrap! So, when you unwrap it you are left with signed trash! I still have that shrink wrap!

  6. Brett C
    July 8, 2011 at 2:50 am

    I didn’t see this one coming either but it is so deserving.
    Though you did miss one obvious comparison (at least to me), and that is with the mid 70’s Steve Miller Band at least the first side of the album anyway.
    A great choice and definitely an AYSO, I’m of to Paul’s website paulclarkmusic.com to go buy it now as I have never owned my own copy.

  7. Christopher™
    July 10, 2011 at 3:00 am

    I think Paul Clark’s later material doesn’t get enough credit, either. I love the jazz side of his musical personality, but he also had a great pop sensibility. Maybe it was the beard that kept him from popularity…

    My favorite album from his still remains “Drawn To The Light.” A wonderful blend of jazz, pop and acoustic influences, I think it’s criminally underrated. And “Carry Me On” kept me sane in my latter years of attending ORU… so it was a thrill to actually experience his music live in my senior year. He also is a genuinely nice man.

  8. Shawn McLaughlin
    July 10, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    While I greatly appreciate the albums made from 1980-84 (Aim For the Heart, New Horizon, Drawn to the Light etc.) and think they are full of great songs and stellar musicianship, I can’t say I like them very much. I was getting into Husker Du, The Replacements, Violent Femmes specifically to escape this type of slick pop. I appreciate it more now, but still like some cohones in my music. I agree with Christopher that Paul’s later period doesn’t get enough credit. Specifically When the Moon’s Behind the Clouds, Call of the Canyon and Tetelestai. The latter is definitely an acquired taste but richly evocative in it’s detailed attempt to approximate the culture of the Israeli nation at the time of the crucifixion.The other two are just great pop albums that seem to foment early “folkie Clark” and the “progressive rock Clark” of his band Point Ov U (Awakening From the Western Dream) into one terrific amalgam of pop/folk/rock glory. Really great albums.

  9. July 18, 2011 at 3:52 am

    I like the three Songs from the Savior albums.

  10. Shawn McLaughlin
    July 21, 2011 at 8:17 pm

    Shawn McLaughlin :
    AMEN, BROTHER! I didn’t see it coming either, but am a huge fan of this record. Aim For the Heart got way too Doobie-esque, but this finds that superb balance between pop, jazz, R&B and rock that Steely Dan made so inviting. “I Need You” is one of my favorite Christian songs of all time.

    Just listened to a lot of the Minstrel’s Voyage III which is 1980-85. I will amend my former comment to say that Aim For the Heart is not where Clark started sounding to “Doobie-esque” (specifically, Michael McDonald era Doobie Bros.). It was New Horizon and, especially, Drawn to the Light. Paul really approximated the LA studio scene during this era as bands like The Doobies, Ambrosia, Seawind, Toto and Pablo Cruise (and even Christopher Cross and Robbie Dupree) were given homage. When Paul made Awakening From the Western Dream, he was clearly listening to a lot of Peter Gabriel as well as The Police and Sting, Mister Mr., The Fixx, Talk, Talk etc. He was never a slave to his influences, although a couple songs were a little too reminiscent of his vocal mentors.

  11. Michael Barndt
    August 19, 2011 at 1:08 am

    My wife & I were married in ’79….the song Woman was one of our centerpiece songs. We were fortunate to have had some amazing Christian musicians perform the music at our wedding!

  12. Greenchili
    January 26, 2012 at 7:44 am

    Great album! Although it does slow down just a tad towards the end.

  13. chuck
    February 24, 2013 at 10:33 am

    Can’t agree more. Prior to this album coming out, I was well-prepared by Clark’s previous Paul Clark and Friends albums. Hand to the Plow must knocked me out and I remember getting it as soon as it came out. I still listen to it and marvel at the long solo. As a bassist, Hockinsmith’s work, particularly on the title song, had an incredible influence on my playing. Thanks for the great review. Remembering precious moments in my Christian walk is a good thing.

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