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24. Straight On – DeGarmo & Key

October 31, 2011 11 comments

STRAIGHT ON

DeGarmo and Key

When it came to amazing blues informed, progressive rock nothing in Christian music has come close to this amazing release at the time. The album possesses some of Eddie DeGarmo and Dana Key’s finest lyrical content. They always possessed a strong musical presence, but some would argue that later albums would lack the lyrical depth of this release. I’m not sure I fully agree, but would state that ”Straight On’s” content, creativity and originality possesses both musically and lyrically were never matched.

DeGarmo and Key have never shied away from a direct lyrical approach and an unquestioned Gospel message. It is part of what made them such a phenomenal and successful band within the genre. But as we will see in the review of the album these same themes are couched in very creative, passionate and authentic contexts.

Friends from childhood, Eddie and Dana formed a friendship that has lasted decades and a musical partnership that has lasted nearly as long. They have been nominated for 7 Grammy’s and 17 Dove Awards. They created a string of hits in the 1980′s that is nearly unparalleled and their success within Christian rock was only rivaled by Petra and WhiteHeart. But it was with “Straight On” that the band created a timeless work with stellar songs and killer musicianship. The songs from this album would later be the highlight of their double LP live album, No Turning Back.

After becoming Christians in the mid-70′s the duo left the band they were in, Globe” and began writing music with a decidedly more Christin bent. They received interest from many different labels and ended up signing with Pat Boone’s “Lamb and Lion” label, which also was responsible for bring the Swedish hard rock band Jerusalem to the attention of Christians in the U.S.

I was introduced to DeGarmo and Key and a Knott’s Berry Farm Christian music night. At the time they only had one release and were pushing the upcoming “Straight On” with a coupon at the concert for the release. I sat with my brother-in-law in the “Cloud 9 Ballroom” and was simply blown away by what I witnessed. I was a fan of Darrell Mansfield and Resurrection Band at the time, but was more influenced by the musicianship of bands like Kansas, Genesis and Styx. That night I finally saw a band that I believed could compare with those bands.

DeGarmo and Key’s debut was “This Time Thru” and hinted at what was to come. Anthem driven rock with great blues tinged guitars similar to Robin Trower with the unmistakable vocals of Dana Key. Key’s vocals were similar to a more blues styled Michael McDonald. Other have compared his voice to another CCM and Jesus Music artist, Mylon LeFevere.

All of that was simply a precursor for “Straight On” as the band took production, songwriting and musicianship to a totally different level. Fans of Kansas, Foreigner, Bad Company and even Genesis will find something (actually, quite a bit) to like.

The album leads off with “Jericho,” a straight ahead rocker that shows a glimpse of Key’s killer blues guitar, though maybe not enough. Key takes the Old Testament story about Joshua and the Battle of Jericho and related it todays false idols and false sense of hope we place in money and other such similar idols.

Your wall street idols won’t be here long
Form cinders to ashes and they are all gone
I begged you to run from your idols to Me
But blind by fools gold no you just couldn’t see

Next is what I believe is the best song DeGarmo and Key ever produced. Sounding every bit of Styx and Kansas, “Livin’ On the Edge of Dyin’” tells the story of conversion. After starting with a very progressive instrumental opening, the song slows down and, for one of his rare appearances, DeGarmo take the lead vocals.

We were all alone on a Saturday
When you preached that gospel creed
Sittin’ on the hood of my Chevrolet
My heart began to bleed

It cut like a bullet from a smokin’ revolver
Givin’ me that fatal blow
I was runnin’ like a thief from a law enforcer
With nowhere I could go

I was lyin on the edge of dying hearin’ your third degree
I was lyin on the edge of dying my soul had no relief

After the second chorus the band once again kicks into a great instrumental section lead by Key’s fine guitar work. Early reviews in CCM and Campus Life were very complimentary of the song as well with some calling it the groups finest work lyrically.

“Go Tell Them” continues the evangelical theme that DeGarmo and Key would always be noted for. Realizing that the vast majority of their audience were Christians they realized the need to remind the Church of their responsibility to the Great Commission.

One of the best progressive rock songs in Christian music follows with “Bad Livin’.” There is a great guitar and keyboard interplay between different sections of the verse and chorus before slowing it down drastically like something Kerry Livgren would arrange. In fact, the style employed here and on other songs would sound not unlike what Kansas would do on “Vinyl Confessions” and “Drastic Measures” with the inclusion of the saxophone and other brass instruments.  The song then slowly works its way back up with string-like keyboard wall of sound that leads straight into a heavy blues lick.

Content wise the song simply addresses the impact of sin and serves as a warning against falling for its lies as well as offering an answer the questions sin creates.

Bad livin’, but I know I’ve been forgiven
‘Cause the price is much too high
Well there’s got to be a way to
And there ain’t no better day to
Tell these people why
Need your love Father and we need it right now

The keyboard lead instrumental “Enchidiron” leads directly into my personal favorite on the album, “Long Distance Runner.” Admittedly it may have more to do with the fact I ran cross-country in high school when the song came out then any specialness of the song itself. That being said it is great rock song borrowing from the Apostle Paul the concept that the Christian Life is like running a race, a race we need to win.

Key’s most subdued and pleasant vocals are found on “Let Him Help You Today.” But at the same time it may possess some of Key’s finest guitar work outside of the live album that would follow a few years later. the live version is historic! The song features a great D&K trademark where Key and DeGarmo would go back and forth in dueling instrument fashion.

“I Never Knew You” follows and again it’s Genesis and Kansas that come to mind with the progressive keyboard and guitar lick before moving directly into more of a pop vein with saxophone solo. Here Key addresses the issue of those that claim the name of Christ but never really know Him. This reminds the listener most obviously of Matthew 25 where Jesus claims to not know many that named His name.

You told everyone you knew
That you and I were best of friends
But mama, I got news for you
There is where the story ends
You’re talking fast and loud
But I can’t hear a thing you say
Too late now for acting proud
It’s time to go our separate ways

I never knew you
No I never knew you at all

The album closes with a classic track that would be a DeGarmo and Key staple for many years to follow. In fact, Key would rework the song on a later solo project. This beautiful acoustic guitar solo tells the story of Mary visiting the empty tomb sung from the point of view of the angel that greeted her there.

Mary, please don’t be afraid
There’s no man there where he did lay
Run now, run now, tell your friends
Jesus was dead but he lives again
He’s risen, raised up with our sins forgiven
Risen up from the dead
Oooh, oooh, oooh, He did what He said

I have often wondered how the song never became an Easter classic along the lines of Don Fransisco’s “He’s Alive” or “Easter Song” by 2nd Chapter of Acts. This timeless message works well as a finishing touch to the great album.

D&K would follow this album up with “This Ain’t Hollywood,” a significantly more pop oriented projects and the classic live album, before making the previously discussed paradigm shift to a more keyboard driven synth pop sound. I do not begrudge them making such a change as that was the musical direction of the time and allowed the band to reach a greater audience with the Gospel. It even allowed them a short entre onto MTV with a video called, “Six, Six, Six.”

But for a brief moment there was this amazing time when they were the very best at what they did in a genre that was sorely lacking in the Christian market. And in staying true to what they were very good at for one record they created a masterpiece worthy of being called one of the greatest albums in Christian music history.

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25. In Another Land – Larry Norman

October 26, 2011 9 comments

IN ANOTHER LAND (1976)

Larry Norman

“In Another Land” is the best selling Larry Norman album. It was also the first of Norman’s albums to released by a “Christian” record company. But it would was not the first, not would it be the last album in Norman’s career that faced censorship, delays, album cover controversies and bookstore blacklisting.

It is also many fans “favorite” album. I would argue it is clearly Norman’s most “commercial” release and is loaded with Norman “hits.” Actually hits is unfair since CCM radio avoided Norman like the plague during his entire five decade career. So, let’s just say it is filled with Norman “favorites.”

Like many Norman album the preceded and followed its release, “In Another land” contains songs that were also on other projects in similar or completely differing versions. Here, though, most songs receive a wonderful treatment and very high production standards. Jon Linn plays guitar and comedian Dudley Moore plays piano. Randy Stonehill makes his customary appearance and even John Michael Talbot serves as a guest musician.

many argue this is Norman’s most “Christian” album. As the third part of a trilogy that included “Only Visiting This Planet” (present) and “So Long Ago the Garden” (past), “In Another land” was Norman’s attempt to consider the future from a Biblical perspective. As a result Norman believes people understood the album’s material to be more “Christian” because he did not stray from his view of what the Bible says about the future. The album is, in a sense, an eschatological theological tract set to music.

Norman, like most musicians and modern evangelical churches at that, was directly influenced by the popular eschatological ideology of Dispensationalism. Hal Lindsey’s “The Late, Great Planet Earth” was immensely popular and the Jesus Movement was in full swing with a decidedly “rapture ready” point of view. This basic belief system would impact the albums content like no other single idea. Even the album cover of Norman standing on a hillside with an artistic rendering of Revelation’s “New Jerusalem” would serve as a backdrop for nearly every song on the project.

But leave it to Norman to kick off the album with a controversial defense of Christian rock with “The Rock That Doesn’t Roll.”. Though more subtle than “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music,” the songs reference to Jesus being a “rock” that doesn’t “roll” was obvious enough for several Christian bookstores to refuse to carry the album. That added with Norman’s obviously unGodly long blonde hair splashed across the cover didn’t help. One foolish “backward masking guru” even tried to argue that Norman’s thumbs were “reversed” on the album cover, a clear Satanic presence! (uh, serious!)

The song itself is pure Norman brilliance. Rollicking and fun, the song would have been a great addition to his follow up, “Something New Under the Son.” Jon Linn’s blistering guitar work once again here shows he was Christian music’s greatest unsung rock guitar god.

The countrified “I Love You” is more Southern Rock than cowboy music, but the slide guitar and harmonized vocals made the song especially appealing. Despite the emotional, business and relational woes that impacted Norman and Stonehill soon following this release, no two people ever harmonized as well that didn’t share the same last name. This shows wonderfully here. It also makes sense given that the song is actually a randy Stonehill song that appears on his “Born Twice” debut. The lyrics, though, are completely changed except for a handful.

“U.F.O.” is the first of several eschatological themed songs. Jesus is described as a UFO during His second coming (or third or fourth, I can never get it straight). Norman employs a great acoustic guitar backdrop and very progressive vocal production by the day’s standards. The song does contain one of Norman’s most famous lines in which he declares “If there’s life on other planets/I’m sure that he must/And has been there once already/And has died to save their souls.” The line is pure genius given the descriptive and “science fiction” allegory the song delivers.

One of Norman’s trademarks was limited breaks between songs and one song merging into the next. He does that here with a fade into “I’ve Searched All Around.” Linn’s funky riff is very reminiscent of The Rolling Stones as is Norman’s Jagger-like vocal. The songs message of a soon coming end to the world continues the theme. Here Norman warns that the world has no answers to the real questions.

“Righteous Rocker #3″ is the third (really second” version of the song that first appeared on “Only Visiting This Planet.” the second was supposed to be on “So Long Ago the garden,” but was scrapped, removed, never recorded (depends on who is telling the story). This time it is a very produced a capella version.

Again we have an immediate segue into “Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus.” This bluesy groove is Norman’s finest song ever. There may be some who disagree, but I have yet to find a Norman song any better or a Norman fan that dopes not list it among their Top 3. This is, once again, a cover of a previously released version from OVTP. This significantly more sanitized version played much better in Church circles with the removal of gonorrhea and “getting laid.” he kept the lines about smoking and drinking because blasting those two legal things were quite alright for the church.

Another merged segue moves the album into one of Norman’s greatest vocal performances. “I Am a Servant” is just plain stunning. Norman’s falsetto carries the entire song and Moore’s piano and the wonderful string arrangement that accompanies Norman’s stirring lyrics make this one a real classic. Youth groups ate it up. I remember hearing the song used regularly in Youth Groups and even Church settings as “special music.”

Literally recorded in less than two minutes live in the studio with Moore’s wonderful piano performance, “The Sun Began to Rain” (The Son Began to Reign). According to Norman, this was a “one take” afterthought. It was used to replace 4 songs that Word records reportedly removed for being too negative.

“Shot Down” remained a Norman staple until his death. I don’t recall ever seeing Norman without him performing the song. The great Stone-like groove is pure Norman magic. This would be one of several songs in Norman’s career where the topic would be how he fended off criticism and remained faithful to his mission despite the attacks.

The eschatological theme returns with “Six Sixty Six,” a treatment of the popular 666 theme of Revelation 13 and the Beast of Revelation who is represented by the number. The song features John Michael Talbot making a cameo on the banjo. It’s best if i do not comment on the song itself as to do so would require pounding my head against the nearest wall too many times. But suffice it to say that Norman was not alone in his use of the passage in question.

“Diamonds” is an often overlooked Norman song that could have been a classic and a radio hit if it was longer than a minute-thirty. The beautiful strings and piano make for a compelling and inviting piece. Just much too short. But the classical arrangement that ends the song flows directly into “One Way.” This song is just so good. If it’s possible to write a flawless song, this is quite possibly the finest example. The building arrangement that accompanies Norman’s finest vocal performance made the song a lasting classic.

Norman is credited with inventing the “one way” sign with the index finger pointing toward the sky. Like much in Norman lore it’s difficult to separate legend from fact. The story goes that when Norman would receive applause his goal was to deflect the praise and transfer it to god, so he would point to the sky. That single index finger would also be attached to the song “One Way” and a legend is born.

The next song is “Song for a Small Circle of Friends.” This unique songs starts as a tribute to Stonehill and moves into a prayer of sorts for Norman’s “idols” that he would hope to play with in heaven. named are Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney. Bob Dylan among others. It’s actually quite a beautiful little song.

The song closes with “Hymn to the Last generation.” The song closes the theme as well as serves as an altar call of sorts. In an obvious nod to the Beatles, this much too short “hymn” calls for his listeners to come to Jesus or to stand together to reach the world for Jesus. It is at the close of this song that we first here the line for which the album is named.

Some will claim the album is much too high while others will argue it deserves top 10 status. I believe the placement fair (obviously) as though it is not Norman’s finest, it remains one of the most compelling, interesting and listenable of Norman’s career.

26. A Liturgy, A Legacy and a Ragamuffin Band – Rich Mullins

October 26, 2011 15 comments

A LITURGY, A LEGACY AND A RAGAMUFFIN BAND (1993)

Rich Mullins

On September 19, 1997 two men were traveling on I-39 north of Bloomington, IL when their vehicle flipped over. Neither of the two were wearing a seat belt and both were thrown from the vehicle. Shortly after they were thrown out of their vehicle a passing tractor-trailer swerved to avoid the turned over vehicle. One of them was too sore from the impact to move out of the way…

 

“A Liturgy, A Legacy and a Ragamuffin Band” is a stunning artistic achievement. Combining the impressive forces of Jimmy A, Rick Elias, Beaker, Phil Madeira and Aaron Smith, artist Rich Mullins was able to capture many differing voices musically and bring together an impressive work. Highlights from that album included the deeply personal and stirring, “Hold Me Jesus” and the fabulous reworking of the Apostle’s Creed in “Creed.” For the sole reason that millions of American Evangelical Christian were introduced to the Apostle’s Creed for probably the very first time it is worth mentioning!

But what is most astonishing is that an album filled with brilliant moments and long-standing radio hits is the fact that the album is a concept album. Most comparable albums suffer from forcing a theme to run the course of the an album’s playlist and an artists inability to create quality songs that also stand on their own. Every single song here is a brilliant work unto itself and the fact they weave a simple and intricate theme throughout is simply marvelous.

The Ragamuffin band members listed above were not the famous “rock stars” of CCM or high end studio pros, but rather brilliant artists unto themselves. The fact that Mullins could assemble such a brilliant combination of singers, musicians and songwriters into a real band says much more about the man and the artists that a simple review could ever convey.

The album is delivered in two section; a liturgy and a legacy. The former addresses the theological and doctrinal standards of the historic Christian Church and are placed in a traditional format of a liturgy that includes profession, confession, affirmation and worship. These “lost” standards of authentic Church worship are lost on many in mainline, evangelical Churches, but are immediately noticeable by those with a high Church history.

The latter addresses how those standards and statements of faith impact the world around us and how the Christian acts and interacts within their social setting. These are real life applications, especially in the American landscape. With that being said, it is a very “Americana” album at times while also delving into Celtic, World and even progressive musical expressions. It is this unique and stunning musical landscape that makes this album not just amazing for its time, but for all time.

The album’s fitting introduction is “Here in America.” Rather than opening the album with a liturgical introduction, Mullins starts the album with an invitation to join in. After a Rick Elias quip the band settles into a very pretty country/Americana melody in which Mullins invites the saints and children to join in the journey through the Biblical expressions that are to follow. Mullins also expresses the universality of the Church when he proclaims the king of Israel loves us here in America.

The liturgical portion of the album begin with the “Introit,” a common “call to worship” in high Church or Reformed settings. This is usually a Psalm of prophetic passage and is either spoken or set to music. Here it is Isaiah 52:10 and this call to worship declares the mighty power of the Lord and His protection of His holy ones, those he has set apart. The whole world has sees and will continue to see the arms of the Lord. Musically there is a tough of Kemper Crabb here, with a rock and Celtic setting.

After being called to worship and taking their place in the house of the Lord, the people of the Lord will declare His praises. Here it is done with “The Color Green.” Again, a touch of Celtic music accompanies some amazing strings and drums that build into a brilliant, swirling crescendo as the song builds.

The first very recognizable song from the album is “Hold Me Jesus,” a beautiful ballad of confession. Mullins had a wonderful penchant for personalizing worship and confession. His transparency makes this song of confession relatable. No sin or struggle is too great. The song would become one of the biggest hits, not only from the album, but for Mullin’s career.

The highlight of the album remains the wonderful doctrinal proclamation “Creed.” A musical reworking of the third century Apostle’s Creed, Mullins does not attempt in anyway to modernize the terminology. He simply creates a memorable and longstanding melody around the popular words. Again, during the worship service is there is a time set aside for the church to declare what she believes. the word “creed” simply means “we believe.” The Apostle’s Creed is one of the oldest Church creeds and has lasted nearly two millennia. These 12 doctrinal statements are standards by which orthodoxy has been measured. Mullins here also brilliantly presupposes the truth of the statements realizing they are not the invention of man, but the very truth of God.

The liturgical portion of the album closes with “Peace.” This closing blessing reaffirms God’s love for his people and His persevering work in their lives. rather than a simple “dismissed,” a blessing is a comfort and affirmation of the eternal truth of god’s blessing upon His people. Mullins affirms this here with a great and powerful message in which god blesses no matter where one might be, in a Church or behind prison bars. Mullins also alludes to the Eucharist as well reminding the listener of the finished work of Christ and what was accomplished through his body and blood.

The “legacy” portion beings with”78 Eatonwood Green,” an instrumental that segues beautifully from the liturgical musical expressions with its Celtic influence to the more Americana sound of the legacy portion that is to follow. I always felt if Mullins would have titled it “Christmas in Canterbury” Christian radio would have played it as a Christmas instrumental.

“Hard” starts with a James Taylor like acoustic folk pop sound that one would have thought should have made the song a hit. But alas, it was not to be. Lyrically Mullins now begins to express how the truths behind the liturgical side are lived in real life. Mullins cries out that “it’s hard to be like Jesus.” Forgiving and loving the unlovely are difficult and a challenge to those who proclaim the name of Christ. This is the perfect song to  start this section as someone who just exits a place of worship is thrust into the real world of living what was just proclaimed. The song ends with the wry statement directed at misappropriated faith when one thinks it’s the things one does that saves them, rather than the work of Christ.

“I’ll Carry On” most obviously addresses the concept of the legacy as Mullins declares that he will “carry on” the songs and stories he learned as a child. But Mullins also recognizes that one also carries the scars and pains of previous generations and events in ones life.

One of the longest lasting legacy for most people are Christmas memories. “”You Gotta Get Up” recognizes both the selfish, me-centered aspect of Christmas as well as the real meaning behind the day. No child is immune to running into his parent’s room telling them it’s time to get up, it’s Christmas morning. here again, it is Mullins commonality that makes the potent message woven throughout the song so powerful.

A cover of Mark Heard’s “How to Grow Up Big and Strong” follows and is a perfect addition. Heard had passed away just a few months before the recording of the album and the song chosen fits perfectly into the legacy portion of the album. Mullins and Heard were very similar in many respects, though Mullins would receive the acceptance and support of the CCM mainstream that heard never achieved. The song is stirring tribute and a perfection choice. The song remains one of Heard’s finest moments in an illustrative career, and Mullins did him proud with this version.

The legacy section and album close with “Land of My Sojourn.” The song musically and lyrically points to the lead track as Mullins once again looks at America, especially the “rustier” parts. Scenes of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and West Virgina serve as backdrops for the purpose statement of the album and of Mullins’ career.

That career was cut much too short. Just about four years after the release of this album Mullins hit the pavement hard and was unable to move out of the way of an oncoming vehicle. One of CCM’s finest craftsmen was silenced. Like Keith Green before him, it seemed much too soon.

Before his death Mullins announced that his next project would be a ten song, themed collection on the life of Christ. Those rough songs were eventually recorded by some of the biggest names in CCM on a project called “The Jesus Project.” Those powerfully profound songs were recorded with the support of the ragamuffin band. Again, we were introduced to a liturgy by a man with left one of the truly great legacies in CCM.

27. Rick Elias and the Confessions – Rick Elias and the Confessions

October 21, 2011 6 comments

RICK ELIAS AND THE CONFESSIONS (1990)

Rick Elias

In late 1989 I was working for the Benson Company and was about ready to leave to go with the fledgling Frontline Music Group as they had decided to go on their own for distribution. During the final sales conference before the announcements of their departure I was having a few beers with Mike MacLane and Kent Songer of Frontline in their hotel room.

Mike asked if I wanted to hear something new that was going to be the big push for the new distribution company after they went out on their own. OF COURSE I DID!

We went down to Kent’s car in the parking garage of the hotel and Mike put in a blank cassette. Initially there was simply an acoustic guitar riff for several seconds. Then boom! A power chord followed a little heavier acoustic guitar with some seriously soulful, rocker vocals laid on top until a raucous and jangling chorus erupted and I was hooked. For the next thirty minutes or so I was introduced to what was to becomes Rick Elias and the Confessions.

Impressed didn’t even begin to describe what I was hearing. passionate vocals, stirring and at times unnerving lyrics, a blistering full frontal assault of Americana rock and roll that echoed the best of Springsteen, Mellencamp, Dylan and even the Violent Femmes. There was rough edged rock and subtle, nearly whispering vocals that were simply captivating. There were melodies both original and accessible. There were simply some of the best songs I had heard in a very long time. This would go down as one of the debut albums in CCM history.

Rick would go on to record two more studio project, the fabulous “10 Stories” and the understated, “Blink.” He would also gain notoriety for writing several songs for the tom hanks directed “That Thing You Do” in which he also appeared as the traveling band director. To most CCM fans he is one of the founding members of Rich Mullins’ “Ragamuffin Band.”

But in 1990 Christian music needed an authentic rock voice and Rick Elias was it. From vocals hat always felt like were at the edge of breaking with a Lou Reed meets John Mellencamp fervor. But the amazing musicianship and guttural btu passionate vocals would be lost if the lyrical content could not contend. Not only did they contend they were the perfect marriage.

As Elias struggled to keep his voice in check his subjects were those who have always struggled to find a voice of their own. These are not songs of the pristine and pretty stained glass pictures adorning the cathedrals, these are images and shadows of those longings and torments that haunt the alleys and dusty roads. These were a confessional in three minutes. The title track that kicks of the record is a testament to this:

I was nothing/I was wild
Both man and child
And I’ll crawl into your arms with a guilty smile
I stand accused of a crime
It’s the truth I ain’t lying
This is my – confession of love

In “Streets of Rome” the vagabond does not struggle to see past white picket fences the guard not only the intrusion of the unwanted but attempt to mask that ugly truth hidden behind them. The truth that man will slave for that which he cannot keep and ignore that which has ultimate meaning. Melodic harmonica and a jangly mandolin are juxtaposed against the stinging reality of the songs content making a wonderful audio example of the lyrics message.

Underneath each finely manicured garden
Lives a stripped down bag of bones
And the gold they extract
They will only give back
To the goons in charge of all

All those gold lined street of Rome

“Miles and Miles” is a groove driven rocker with some og Elias’ best vocals. Starting subtle and low, building and scratching through the chorus. This is also a great demonstration of what a great band he assembled.

The Mellencamp-like “Before the Fall” is real stand out with a killer bridge in which Elias’ strained vocals pierce the soul with authentic longing.

The inordinately long (over 6 minute) “Someday” always sounds out of place until one hears the follow-up, “Ten Stories.” The song always seemed like it would have fit better on that project.

Rick would have several songs from the record chart on Christian rock radio including one of the strongest cuts on the project, “The Word is Love.” In an evangelical word that makes political demands and teaches unBiblical principles regarding wealth and stature Elias loses his voice proclaiming the missing ingredient.

Don’t want no statues/No movie stars
Don’t need more saints/In luxury cars
I don’t want nobody/Pointing at me
Asking for my money/Say they’ll set me free

I only want one word/From high above
I only want one word…

The word is love…the word is love

I have always wondered if the music of Timbuk 3 was an influence on “Riot (Comin’ on).” The groove has a real similarity to that husband/wife folk rocking combo. It’s most notableon the harmonized, almost monotone verse structure. The song has this great sexy groove that sounded unlike anything else in CCM. In fact, this album may be the most authentic “non-CCM” sounding album on the entire list.

It is not uncommon for Elias to make mention of his difficult upbringing and to phrase these struggles within the content of his songs, both figuratively and literally. these struggles are evident in the characters that populate the stirring final three songs that really should be listened to without a break. These final three songs are poignant and difficult, especially the first of the three, “Without One Word.”

In this song Elias takes on the character of a man imprisoned both by his actions and by the demons that haunt him and keep him realizing the state of grace.The songs starts in a very folk driven acoustic way similar almost to Springsteen’s Nebraska.

There’s a house where prisoners worship
Where honest men confess
I admit I was a theif
To the darkness in my chest
I admitted to the thrill to the killing I had done
It was funny man, it was tragic
The kind of person I’d become

The possible glimmer of hope for this individual is lost and the depravity of his internal sin is revealed in the chorus and his calloused heart could find no hope.

I would help you up a letter
And watch you dangle from a rope
And I would shine a light upon you
To make you see a ray of hope
I’d scratch and kick the love you’d give
Watch you bleed, lied down and hurt
Than I’d change my mind and kiss you
And say it all without one word.

He is blinded by his own position and reaches a climax that is not the norm for a song found the Christian music market. The hopelessness of many is too real and the market has shied away from this reality.  Despite a bridge where the subject pleads he’s sorry finds an unfortunate and frightening result. With nearly no instrumentation Elias whispers.

In a house where prisoners worship
A heart beats scared to death
I got down on my knees
And claimed my innocence under my breath
I knelt there from betrayal
I put my temple to the gun
I felt finger twitch
And it was over…it was done

The following song, “Stones,”  takes a similar character whose past was littered with memories that included a “time when these veins were thirsty” and a time when life “collapsed on myself like a human black hole.” But the hope that rises as with the music, this time more rock than folk, breathes hope into the picture.

Don’t ask me to sing like a caged pink canary
When I’m burning for freedom, not just sanctuary
Somebody roll away the stone

The second verse is a staggering work of images coiled together that spring out at the listener once unveiled in full.

I had a vision last night
The old man died in a broken down shack
While many miles away here in LA
I only felt the warm sun on my back
As I laid in the suite they were known to provide
I felt along dark shroud glowing down inside me
Than I opened up my window, uncovered my eyes
And I let out a scream from behind this disguise
While that warm sun burned hot, my wounds were cauterized
And it burned away scars that mask could never hide
Let the wind and the rain blows these four walls to hell
Someone hold me come mornin’

Somebody roll away the stone

But then the song takes a stark and riveting turn. After some truly creative guitar work and a driving climax the music all but stops leaving Elias’ voice to carry

There are no secrets in the city of angels
Only stories told revealing fears…

I am David
I would murder the innocent to have what I desire
I a Peter
Who would drown, out of faith, when he walked upon the water
Black as coal, yet made white as snow
By the red, red blood
The red, red blood
There are no secrets
There are no se – crets

The final words barely escape Elias’ lips. The authentic emotion and cracking voice reveal one, unlike the previous song, who is broken and humbled. Repentant. This song flows directly musically and lyrically into the album’s clincher, “Stripped.” With a stripped down instrumentation of lightly strummed acoustic guitar, hallow harmonica and Elias’ struggling voice we here”

Rain down your tender mercies
Cleanse my heart of dark secrecy
You know how soon I’d buy back one second if I could…

I am stripped, I am naked
I am humbled but not betrayed
Still a tear mirrors the reflection
Of every blemish and every stain
I am stripped
But not afraid.

It is this moment of stark reality when the repentant realizes his frailty and nakedness before an almighty creator. But there is love and compassion Elias breaks down and embraces this reality.

I’m unclean…

Cause your face to shine upon me Father
Let Your hand brush my hand and i will be free

Now I am stripped…
Still Your love, beyond expression
Laid bares my hearts remains

Elias’ wrote earlier his rejection of a father that did not treat him well, so to finally embrace a heavenly Father is both beautiful and surprising. In a rare surprise CCM Magazine included this album among their Top 100 of All Time. It is well deserved.

28. Doppelganger – Daniel Amos

October 21, 2011 15 comments

DOPPELGANGER (1983)

Daniel Amos

I have mentioned in previous reviews that 1983 was just a great year for Christian Music. I can’t explain it other than the walls that held back creativity and stagnated musical expressions were crumbling. There was brilliance pouring out of the souls of many young and energetic Christian thinkers and musicians.

One of the brightest spots in an already bright year was the second in the 4-part Alarma Chronicles by stalwart CCM heroes Daniel Amos. “Doppelganger” would prove to be so groundbreaking and enigmatic that it would be several years before many would recognize its brilliance and any chance of Daniel Amos remaining in the mainstream of CCM was all but blown to smithereens. Its predecessor (Alarma) broke barriers and drove the handful of Daniel Amos country music fans away in droves: Doppelganger would eliminate the rest.

“Doppelganger” is the first haunted album in CCM history. Scary, eerie and creepy. And not a single misstep in the entire collection. Superlatives are simply lacking.

But the record is scary. It’sodd, quirky, off-key and off-kilter. There is backward masking done on purpose and links between its predecessor and it’s follow-up. There are tips of the hat TS Elliot and scathing retorts against televangelist. Few sacred cows go unskewered. Every time the listener begins to point the finger at a particular songs’ subject, he soon discover how quickly the finger is pointing back at him. It is musically and lyrically unsafe.

It is brilliant.

I had just started working at The Pink Lady bookstore when Alarma was released and I was an instant fan. I had earned a reputation as a music expert and had weaseled my way into getting advance releases from the record companies in exchange for pushing their albums. really, I just wanted to be the first to have it and would push it if it was good, anyway.

Getting an advance of Doppelganger was proving to be next to impossible. The band had switched labels and the distribution company at the time (Benson) wasn’t sure if or when the album was coming out. But as a total shock to me Terry Taylor’s home phone number was listed and i was 17 and didn’t know any better. Taylor graciously spoke with me and offered to get me a pre-release vinyl copy of the album the next day.

I met Taylor at Maranatha Village and he gave me what he thought was a test pressing of the album. What he actually gave me was a white labeled test pressing of a radio special featuring the entire album and interview notes with Taylor!

Yes, I still own it!

But what awaited me as the needle was placed in the groove was something I never expected.

The initial tie between Alarma and doppelganger comes in the opening track, “Hollow Man.” Alarma’s closing track, “Ghost of the Heart” is played backwards while the lyrics, based on TS Elliot’s poem of the same name are recited. This eerie opening, sounding like Twin Peeks meets Psychedelic Furs, set the musical, lyrical and thematic tone for the entire project.

“Mall All Over the World”, the funky bass and drum driven rocker delivers a poignant message on Westernized religious experience. Prophet Taylor appears to be addressing the “Seeker driven” churches of the 1990’s a full decade before they became all the rage. Americanized Christianity and its clamor for commercialized, me-oriented experience over community and Biblical faith are rightly criticized in fine satiric fashion.

The use of satire is a prominent fixture in Taylor’s musical expressions and is a great weapon in the arsenal of a keen mind. Others have attempted it with varied results. But as a lyrical form, satire is a very powerful and biblical expression. Allow me to recommend Douglas Wilson’s wonderful treatise on the use of satire in Scripture called “The Serrated Edge.” (google it)

The danger of satire is when the less intellectually involved misunderstand what is being clearly presented. case in point is the following song, “Real Girls.” Many unfortunately mistook Taylor’s lament of the view of women in the world and church as an attack on women, when it was clearly just the opposite. I recall a young woman coming up to Taylor at a roller rink (seriously, the gigs great bands have had to endure) and blasting into him for both his view on women and his attack on the Resurrection Band.

OK…the Resurrection Band story.

While introducing “Mall All Over the World,” Taylor joked that Rez Band clearly ripped them off with their song “Elevator Muzik” by borrowing the concept in Taylor’s lyric that states “Elevator up, escalate down.” Spending ten minutes defending oneself against attacks on something like that must just drive someone crazy!

Televangelist take the brunt of Taylor’s lyrical dagger in “New car.” The name-it-and-claim-it crew of TBN and Christian television are shown for their wasteful and wanton ways. Again, Taylor proves himself a prophet here given that the great scandals of Swaggart, Hinn, Bakker and others were many years in the future.

The masculine side of the human race receives its own treatment in “Big Boys Cry.” But here those big boys are those that present the Gospel or are involved in ministry one way of the other. Are those in the pulpit allowed to be real and feel, struggle and fail?

“Youth With a Machine” is an aggressive new wave/punk rocker that oozes pure coolness with one of Taylor’s best melodies. Modern technology is addressed well before the invention of the cell phone. The theme of how the Gospel must penetrate the soulless life that believes it has no real needs and feels little true emotion.

Doppelganger receives its title from “The Double.” A wonderful metaphor for the Biblical concept of the “old man,” the song reveals the constant struggle with the two natures we possess, the physical and spiritual. Ultimately like the Apostle Paul, Taylor understands the struggle remains until Christ rules over all.

This same theme is continued with “Distance and Direction,” a musical departure that would fit nicely on Vox Humana or Taylor’s solo projects. the beautiful and soft melody reveals that constant human struggle that is shared amongst all who honestly examine their motives and decisions.

“Memory Lane” is a personal favorite for nearly 30 years and is the first of several self-defense songs Taylor has written. Taylor was continually receiving comments and complaints from older fans that did not or would not travel with them on the musical trail the band was blazing. Very “punkish” the song once again uses some great satirical expressions. But Taylor does not leave the metaphor alone, but rather extends it to those who stay where they are spiritually, reliving past experiences and victories and never moving forward on their own spiritual trail blazing.

The satirical highlight may reside in “Angels Tuck You In.” Modern evangelicalism’s claim of the wonderful, painless Christian life is examined in brilliant sardonic fashion. Comparing the christian life to a trip to Disneyland where special little angels are there at your beackon call is scathing while the musical palette is sweet and unassuming.

The theme continues but in a much more aggressive and obvious way with “Little Crosses.” This is the one song Taylor did not have a hand in writing. This Jerry Chamberlain tune is the most guitar focused rocker musically. Modern Christendom’s love and fascination for trinkets and “Jesus Junk” as a replacement for real faith in that which cannot be seen, is given a pretty rough treatment. But for someone who worked in the Christian Bookstore industry, it is more than justified.

“Autographs For the Sick” is just plain odd. Delightfully so. Different voices speaking in various languages over a funky and quirky guitar riff with an English translator. Very Swirling eddies like. Me thinks someone was listening to Tonio K.

Though never mentioned by name, it didn’t take a genius to presume the subject of “I Didn’t Build It For Me” was Orange County mega-church Pastor and positive thinker Robert Schuller. Constructed in the late 70’s and early 80’s the massive Crystal Cathedral is either a landmark or eye-sore depending on one perspective. But the question as to the purpose of building such a structure and the proper use funds needed to do so receives firm and harsh treatment.

The albums full song closer is “Here I Am.” Born out of the previously explored theme of how we seldom ever truly connect with those with whom we share a deep and lasting bond in Christ. This real lack of true communion is sad and all too real. Placed against the backdrop of one of Taylor’s most pleasant melodies, this song of longing and hope is a fitting and natural close.

A short reprise of “Hollow Man” with differing lyrics punctuates the haunting and unforgettable message of the entire project.

Though not necessarily the very best Daniel Amos project recorded it remains my personal favorite and the one I listen to most.

29. Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws – Bruce Cockburn

October 20, 2011 6 comments

DANCING IN THE DRAGON’S JAWS (1979)

Bruce Cockburn

Bruce Cockburn is the greatest songwriter of all time!

OK…that may be an exaggeration…but not by much. Along with being intensely prolific, Cockburn is also incredibly intelligent,  diverse, creative, original, stark, honest, transparent, intriguing…

When I was first hired as a 16 year old at a local Christian Bookstore I was already a “music expert” of sorts. I had begun collecting Christian music much earlier, first as “hand me down” albums from my parents and older brother and sister, and then using my allowance or money from odd jobs to buy my own. Then as I could save money I would ask my parents to drive me to Maranatha Village or other Christian bookstores in town to pick up the most recent releases from Sweet Comfort, Daniel Amos and Darrell Mansfield. My Youth Pastor subscribed to CCM Magazine and I subscribed to Camus Life, both of which had a heavy impact on my growing love and appreciation for the genre.

My first few days at my new job was primarily an education in how the store worked, my responsibilities and dealing with customers. But the owner’s daughter was a music fan, especially of more cutting edge and controversial artists. On one of those first few days she took an LP of “Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws” and placed on the in-store play system. As a fan of Bob Dylan I was immediately drawn to Cockburn’s nasally, borderline off-key vocals and compelling lyrical content.

This birthed my fascination with Bruce Cockburn, an artist I have had the privilege of seeing in concert over 10 times and one of the few artists that I own every album he has released. My favorites remain those released between the mid-70′s and the mid-80′s.

Cockburn had become a Christian at just about the time his solo career began despite being born and raised in an agnostic family setting. Cockburn’s Christianity would impact and influence his content from the earliest days. His brand of Christianity also informed his view of environmental and human rights issues. These two subjects, especially the latter, would be an integral part of his work.

Like the previously discussed songwriter, Bill Mallonee, Cockburn has drawn criticism from evangelical circles for his subject matter and for his use of provocative language. But also like Mallonee there never appears to be an illicit purpose for the use of language, but rather an understandable inclusion of such language to express or prove a point. The subject matter, though, is quite often more provocative than certain linguistic choices. Leaning toward the political left, Cockburn has rubbed American evangelicalism the wrong way on more than one occasion.

It should also be noted that Cockburn is quite the impressive musician. He is easily one of the finest acoustic guitar players around. His early work especially proved this point. One concert I attended was a solo concert in which 20 separate instruments were place behind him on the stage. That night he performed 20 songs using a different instrument for each song. I was later told be a friend that the following evening that the order of the songs remained the same but the placement and instrument choices on stage changed!

But what is it about DITDJ that make it worthy of our consideration and why this title over the album “Humans.” It should be noted from the outset that I actually prefer “Humans” as an artistic achievement over “Dancing.” Humans was written as Cockburn’s marriage was coming to an end and it is obvious in its content. It is a much darker, more “worldly” album both in its content and the musical expression. It is quite a sad album despite having two of my favorite Cockburn songs ever, “Fascist Architecture and “The Rose Above the Sky.”

Humans was written as Cockburn traveled through Central America and Asia. Those visual and musical images are apparent and, in fact, dominate the album. When listened back to back with “Dancing,” which was recorded just one year previous, it is though you are listening to a different man in a different world.

But it is not so say that I chose DITDJ because it is some sort of happy, poppy, CCM wanna be; that is not the reason at all nor would those words be used to describe the album in any way. Both albums are worthy of consideration and if this l”countdown” was comprised in a different manner both would actually find a home in the Top 50. But “Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws” shows the artist completely at peace with himself and with his Maker. It is this amazing combination of simple and majestic, lyrically expressive and instrumentally compelling. It is this author’s opinion Cockburn’s most “poetic”  album!

It also contains the biggest hit in Cockburn’s career.

“Creation Dream” leads off with Cockburn’s famous guitar picking style acoustic folk pop with limited percussion accompanying guitar and voice. Everyone is free to imagine in their minds eye the visual expressed by the lyrics, but for I envision the wonderful creation scene from CS Lewis’ “The Magaician’s Nephew.”

You were dancing I saw you dancing
Throwing your arms toward the sky
Fingers opening Like flares
Stars were shooting everywhere
Lines of power Bursting outward
Along the channels of your song
Mercury waves flashed Under your feet
Shots of silver in the shell-pink dawn…

Few artist can create such a tapestry of expression in just a few lines. Cockburn appears to do this at will. And of course the marriage of music and lyric strike the right chord and the audience is immediately lost within the vision the artist weaves.

After such a magical expression it would only make sense that Cockburn would bring the listener back to earth, so to speak. With a straight ahead, more traditional folk groove, “Hills of Morning” expresses a more human experience but still set within a lyrical expression that hints at something more majestic.

Women and men moved back and forth
In between effect and cause
And just beyond the range of normal sight
This glittering joker was dancing in the dragon’s jaws

But Cockburn closes the song by pointing to something greater than himself and those around him. He points to one that makes the normal and mundane and the glorious and mystical. He then reaches out and proclaims his desire to take part in a life controlled by one greater than himself.

But everything you see’s not the way it seems –
Tears can sing and joy she’d tears.
You can take the wisdom of this world
And give it to the ones who think it all ends here

Let me be a little of your breath
Moving over the face of the deep –
I want to be a particle of your light
Flowing over the hills of morning

“Badlands Flashback” contains the finest guitar work on the album and some of Cockburn’s best in his career. The song itself is sung in French and lasts over 6 minutes with very limited lyrics as it is really about the music this time.

“Northern Lights,” like nearly every song on this album uses the backdrop of nature and creation to express a truth about the human condition and mankind’s need for a greater connection. He we get a beautiful, though subtle, picture of the Gospel and the gift of God.

I’ve been cut by the beauty of jagged mountains
And cut by the love that flows like a fountain from God.
So I carry these scars, precious and rare,
And tonight I feel like I’m made of air…

It is not hard to see in this album the poet that Cockburn truly is as the vision of God’s creation creating a spiritual wound that helps the poet realize and reflect on the love of God that flows like a fountain. Both the created order and the creation of the human experience are a reflection of the love and work of God.

Again on “After the Rain” the normal and mundane experience of observing the world around us after a rain storm belies the fact that something greater than ourselves is at work. From oily streets to splashing puddles Cockburn demonstrates that there is a love available to those who look deep enough, even within these normal occurrences. This more jazz influence folk song has Cockburn singing in double time, which has been a landmark style for this artist who writes too many words for his melody.

Engine throb street cruise light bullet car flash
Hollow beauty night gleam oily river tension glass
Ultraflame! Glittering dust falling in slow motion
Clouds tumbling one over another into apparent emptiness
It’s like a big fist breaking down my door
I never felt such a love before
Maybe to those who love it’s given to hear
Music too high for the human ear

What follows is the song that would become Cockburn’s biggest hit in his career. Though rock radio would embrace the song “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” several years later, pop radio made “Wondering Where the Lions Are” Cockburn’s only Top 40 single.

The song examines the inexplicable inner joy and peace one has despite being surrounded by difficulties and pain. Like the early Christian’s who were martyred by being fed to the lions, Cockburn uses the imagery set against a love song where love conquers even the most difficult challenges. But through it all Cockburn expresses a desire for the eternal.

Walls windows trees, waves coming through
You be in me and I’ll be in you
Together in eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me

Up among the firs where it smells so sweet
Or down in the valley where the river used to be
I got my mind on eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me

…And I’m wondering where the lions are.

This is Cockburn’s most positive expression lyrically and it makes sense that the accompanying musical expression is just as bright and joyful.

“Incandescent Blue” continues the albums theme of juxtaposing the human and mundane with the mystical and marvelous. The poet finds inspiration in children playing and fighting while waiting for a train yet ultimately points to his needs for his creator.

Hear that lonesome violin play
See the notes float up into the overcast
And change to white birds as they sail on through
And soar away free into incandescent blue
Concrete vortex sucks down the wind
It’s howling like a blinded violin.
Oh — tongues of fire, come and kiss my brow
If I ever needed you, well I need you now

The album closes with the slow and contemplative, “No Footprints.” This song is both the most human and physical as well as the most spiritual and emotional. At its core it is a love song. It is both a love song between a man and his love and between God and his creation. The work of God at drawing all things toward him is compared to a true emotional and physical connection between a man and woman. Ultimately he points to his need h=for god to find fulfillment even in his physical and intimate relationships. he also points to the fear and joy of the unknown future within the relationships.

Through these channelswords
I want to touch you
Touch you deep down
Where you live
Not for power but
Because I love you
So
Love the Lord
And in Him love me too
And in Him go your way
And I’ll be right there with you
Leaving
No footprints when we go
No footprints when we go
Only where we’ve been, a faint and fading glow…

“Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaws” is a beautiful expression of the joy and tension of being human and relating to both one another and to the God of the universe while dancing merrily within the dragon’s jaws.

30. Reconciled – The Call

October 20, 2011 8 comments

RECONCILED (1986)

The Call

Quite often you will hear the term “crossover” bandied about in Christian Music circles. Most often, if not exclusively, the term is used to describe a band from the Christian Music realm that has been able to make an impact on mainstream radio or sales through mainstream music outlets. Bands like Jars of Clay, Switchfoot and POD have made that transition or have achieved some level or recognizable influence in the mainstream market.

But rarely do you hear about a record that goes “the other way.”

Such is the case of the record being spotlighted here. But this is not the only reason for its inclusion. In fact, if passion, integrity and raw emotion personifies what rock and roll is all about, Michael Been and The Call are the definition of rock and roll. And more than any other release from The Call, Reconciled delivers it in spades!

After three marginally received projects, with a nod to the wonderful Modern Romans album that should have been a bigger hit than it was, The Call was without a label. But in 1985 the band signed with Elektra and went into the studio to record their most successful project to date, Reconciled. Filled with deep spiritual imagery, some aggressive rhythms and grooves and an amazing cast of extras that included Peter Gabriel, Kim Kerr (Simple Minds) and the legendary Robbie Robertson, Reconciled packed a punch that the predecessors lacked and only “Into the Woods” has come close to matching.

I had been a fan of The Call since I first heard the single, “The Walls Came Down,” off of Modern Romans and always had an inkling of Been’s subtle faith. As a young session bass player he actually appeared on the classic Barry McGuire album, “Lighten Up.”

While managing Maranatha Village I had heard about the upcoming release of reconciled and checked with my local mainstream distributor for any advance copies to review and consider for the store. He gave me a cassette and I was blown away. I immediately ordered some for the store and awaited the release.

In the meantime I sent a fax to the promotions department for Elektra asking for a bio and media kit. I had explained that as a Christian Bookstore I had certain lyrical content issues to be aware of and that people would be asking about the religious affiliations of the band members, especially of Been. I had expected a normal press kit with bio, maybe lyrics and secretly hoping for a copy on compact disc.

But what I received back blew me away. Not only did I get the press kit with lyrics, bio and an advance copy of the compact disc, but also a letter from Michael Been with a copy of the Apostles Creed attached with a hand written note stating, “this is what I believe,” signed by Been. I took a copy of the note and the CD and went to the local christian radio station. That day they added, “I Still Believe.”

As it so happened the band was being managed by the same person who managed Kim Boyce at the time. We had become friends and when he received my fax to Elektra, he went to Been and asked him to do this for me. A friendship with the manager continued for some time and, in fact, he invited me and a friend to the studio while The Call was recording “Into the Woods.” There is an uncredited backing vocal on “Into the Woods” by an amazing unheralded Christian Bookstore manager!

“I Still Believe” is the song that The Call would forever be known for. It is a dark, gloriously passionate and provocative song. It was later covered by Russ Taff and appeared on several movie soundtracks. It is one the great rock songs of all time with a decidedly Biblical theme. Like much of the project the song starts slow, driven by bass and drum until the chorus with guitars and keyboards kick in full force. Again, like the Psalmist, things are not always pretty, but there is a sense of hope and reliance on Lord for grace and mercy.

I been in a cave
For forty days
Only a spark
To light my way
I wanna give out
I wanna give in
This is our crime
This is our sin

But i still believe
I still believe
Through the pain
And the grief
Through the lies
Through the storms
Through the cries
And through the wars
Oh, i still believe

This sense of faith despite the trials and tribulations that surround is a theme that runs throughout the project. The artist has reconciled himself to the fact that the difficulties of life are only possible to overcome through a true and literal faith. It is all about hope as he sings.

I’ll march this road
I’ll climb this hill
Down on my knees if i have to
I’ll take my place
Up on this stage
I’ll wait ’til the end of time
For you like everybody else
I’m out on my own
Walkin’ the streets
Look at the faces
That i meet
I feel like i like i want to go home
What do i feel
What do i know

But i still believe
I still believe
Through the shame
And through the grief
Through the heartache
Through the years
Through the waiting
Through the years

For people like us
In places like this
We need all the hope
That we can get
Oh, i still believe

Though no other song would match the lyrical precision and passionate expression of this song, it would be a huge mistake to discount the rest of this project.

The album kicks off with, “Everywhere I Go,” a driving rock/alternative groove that has traces of middle American rock and roll. Been baritone lower range starts slowly with the observation that the presence of the Lord is everywhere. This echoes the Psalmist who wrote that even though he traveled to the depths of Sheol, the Lord was still there.

Straight has curves
Smiles, eyes, powers to confound me
I lose my nerve
Your voice, echoes all around me

I think of you
everywhere I go…

Lord, I need you everywhere I go

On “Blood Red (America)” Been looks around at the state of the America and the blood that has been on her hands. Though not directly related, for some reason it is this song that makes me think of the album cover. What blood is it that is on the hands of America? Wars? Abortion? Neglect of the needy? No matter the source, the true blood that covers all of mankind is described in the final verse.

I see you standing
Beneath the tree
Your hands uplifted, on bended knee
In a fateful hour
You hear another voice
I must remember what was my choice
He says, “i am the one
The one for you.”
A look in your eyes can tell me
What to do
I feel ecstatic
I feel transformed
More than conquered down to the bone

“The Morning” longs for fulfillment in life and the need for the only who can truly fulfill what man needs. Again the passion of the song is carried by powerful drumming and Been’s vocals. In the beginning the subjects struggles with his past and his nature that wants to return to yesterday. But again the sense of hope is driven home despite the inner turmoil.

He says, “i’m a poor man. i got nothing to show.”
He said, “please, please remember me when you leave here,
Or i just might follow you home.”

“Oklahoma” has a nearly apocalyptic feel to it. What starts out as a story about a tornado wreaking havoc in the Oklahoma plains turns “end of the world-like” when all that a man can do is reach out to the Lord he had previously neglected. Been uses powerful imagery of a resurrection theme to express this horrific situation. But alas, he reaches a point of no other option.

We were praying in our hearts that day
God, there was movement in our hearts
They were praying but i could not feel
They were praying but i couldn’t feel
Another hot Oklahoma night
Another oklahoma night
Fools part as the day breaks wide
Heavens doors were opened wide
I quit, so i said give up
He said i can’t stop the lights not gone
Once in a blue moon shown against that day
And my heart rips open and all i could do was pray

“With or Without Reason” is the struggle to find faith that is both rational and real. Been even has the following quote above the lyrics.

“the song seems to be about the inability of the intellect or
Reasoning mind to understand certain basic truths about life”

The song closes with the odd but true idea that true love offends us as we cannot understand the depths of the love of God.

The language of the heart takes hold
Now don’t you see that love offends us
When it rises up against this waste
Either with or without reason
Evidence of sin and grace
Oh, there’s somebody waiting

…oh, there’s somebody here!

“Sanctuary” reveals are more subtle Been until the song winds up for its finish. The place of respite calls the weary soul to find peace and release. This beautiful song remains a favorite, though not necessarily a popular song.

“Tore the Old Place Down” has this funky, hilly billy groove that is just plain damn hypnotic. But here again it is all about the passion and presence of Been. He is sorely missed!

The album ends with “Even Now” as it deals with a love that is both otherworldly and yet here and now. That same love continues to pursue even when we run.

Chased, chased
Out into the woods
Footsteps close behind my back
I never knew how close i stood
Shame has brought me to my knees
Love protects the heart
It is just as you please

Been even at the same time recognizes the pursuit of earthly desires and selfishness that wants to steal what is most important from us. Despite that he recognizes that love that never fails.

Chased, chased
By the angry mob
Trying to steal my heart from me
Steal from me my love for god
Watch as stars fall from the sky
Wait until the oceans dry up
But even then
I still feel loved
Even so, i feel cared for
Even now

“Reconciled” would later be found throughout Christian bookstores around the country. This and future releases would find distribution into the Christian market through many different channels. It is a well deserved ranking and a record that stands the test of time both musically and lyrically…Even Now!

When last year Michael been went home to be with the Lord, I was truly affected and saddened. You can read my thoughts there:

http://greatestchristianalbums.wordpress.com/2010/08/20/michael-been-remembered/