23. Chagall Guevara – Chagall Guevara
CHAGALL GUEVARA (1991)
There are many great mysteries in the world of Christian Music.
How did a mediocre label like Tunesmith end up with so many great albums?
Who thought Stryken was a good idea?
Why does anyone ever buy a Carman album?
The most perplexing, though, would be “Why did Chagall Guevara not become the biggest band in the world?”
Perhaps it was because the band was named after a Russian, Jewish artist and an evil, murderous tyrant? Perhaps it was because the band was signed to MCA? Perhaps the music world was embarrassed by the presence on the soundtrack to the awful “Pump Up the Volume?”
Most likely they fell into the Mark heard trap of being “to saintly for the sinners, and the Christians didn’t want them around.” Taylor refused to ever discuss the luyrical content, that was figurative and obscure at times. In fact, I still don’t know what half of the songs are really about! Plus, the first single would prove to not be the best the band had to offer.
Formed in 1989 and featuring a literal who’s who of “too cool for you” Christian artists, who, all expect Steve Taylor resided on the outlaying fringe of CCM. Though guitarist Lynn Nichols was firmly planted within the world of CCM as a producer, record executive and guitarist with Phil Keaggy’s “Sunday Child,” no one outside of the inner circle knew who he was. Two years later the band released their one and only album, the classic and eternal eponymously titled debut. The band signed a record deal with MCA, released the previously discussed song on a movie soundtrack and seemed poised to “make it.” Even MTV gave the first single a few video spins.
Along with Steve Taylor and Lynn Nichols, the band consisted of guitarist Dave Perkins, bassist Wade James and drummer Mike Mead. Mead rocks, by the way. Possibly one of the best drummers that no one knows and probably played on more albums in this Top 500 than just about any other drummer.
But alas, the band’s history was short lived and the album failed to receive the results it deserved. This is one of those albums that MUST be played at the loudest, most excruciating volume ones eardrums can stand. there is so much going on musically here that to really appreciate it, one must be willing to risk future hearing problems. Simply put…it’s a “real” rock album.
The album is also notable in that it is the highest ranking “single release” for an artist. every other artist listed above will have a long and glorious track record to be proud of. Chagall Guevara has just this one album, and its placement and the general response to the album shows how just a phenomenal album it is to be roundly considered this fine of an album.
The album starts off with the rocking groove of “Murder in the Big House.” The guitar riff is pure Dave Perkins, for those who recognize his style it is somewhat reminiscent of his solo work and his other band, Passafist, which also featured Lynn Nichols. Taylor’s vocals here, and throughout the project, are most strained and aggressive than anything during his solo career. The crumbling planet and the lack of civility and real love is expressed in nearly violent terms.
The significantly more poppy, “Escher’s World” follows with a melody and hook more “single ready” than most songs on the album. The backing vocals are more prevalent and the bridge hook is just killer. Escher’s famous artwork shows never ending staircases and mind-bending images, like what was copied on the debut album by Prodigal. Taylor uses the imagery to talk about the difficulty of the human existence in a world that doesn’t seem logical and “real.”
The drum and bass driven “Play God” is the first that really must be played at an ear splitting volume. The additional brass section mixed into the groove drives a song that most resembles Taylor’s solo work, but with twice the power. Perhaps a criticism of the government, Hollywood or your next door neighbor, the song looks at those who would step on anyone and everyone to accomplish their goals and act as though it is their divine right to do so.
Leave it to Chagall Guevara to make a song with a great hook and possible rock hit seven minutes long and destroy any chance for radio success. “Monkey Grinder” remains a personal favorite and shows the band at their best. A slow, moving blues groove, the song builds, turn and twists. The song would not have sounded out of place from any 77’s album from the same time. I have always seen the song as a “common folk working for the man” lament, but who knows? What i do know is the song rocks from start to finish!
A real departure follows with “Can’t You Feel the Chains?” Sounding not unlike Santana in the intro, the song infuses a jazz groove throughout and shows the bands true diversity. Great, great guitar solo work on this song.
The first single (only single?), “Violent Blue” follows in a much more Americana Rock setting. As much as I like the song I never felt it worked well as a single. It was too “normal” for the band’s first single and introduction o the public. It just never stood out in the world of rock at the time. In hindsight it remains one of my favorites, but I just never saw it as a the hit the band needed to have to start their career.
The most out of place (and utterly enjoyable) song on the album is “Love is a Dead Language.” Completely pop driven groove with Taylor’s most subdued and sultry vocals, the song works on so many levels. I don’t know who to credit for the guitar solo but I do know that drummer Mead just makes the song work with his killer driving groove.
I have always had an affinity for “Take Me Back to Love Canal,” but for reasons completely unrelated to the song. My parents are from Niagara Falls and my grandfather worked for the Carborundum Company there. the company, along with others, was charged with polluting the Love Canal waterway and has been blamed for an increase in cancer for those who lived near or swam in the polluted water. My father would swim daily (during the Summer) in Love Canal, but has shown no signs of trouble some 60 plus years later. But as for the song, it’s a fun rollicking pop punk influened blast.
“The Wrong George” proves that Dave Perkins in the most patient man on the planet. Period! (Just listen).
The distinctly more 80’s sounding “Candy Guru” follows with a sweeping groove and silky chorus. I keep trying to rack my brain to find a comparison and everyone i come up with falls just short and isn’t quite right. Kudos to the guitar player here again!
“I Need Somebody” immediately reminds me of Robert Vaughan and the Shadows. So, as a result, I have always loved this song. Should have been a single.
“The Rub of Love” is the only other song that would have fit on Taylor’s “Squint.” The song of father/son relationship is brutal and honest. it’s a difficult song lyrically and the band matches with a heavy and unrelenting groove throughout.
The album closes with “If It All Comes True,” a perfect closer for this or any album. If anything it is much too short. The song is also notable as the one song in which perkins takes lead vocals responsibilities. As a result the song is more Americana rock and sounds like something from “The Innocence.” the big sounds created here are reminiscent of what he did as a producer for himself, Passafist and previously for Randy Stonehill.
The album and the band deserved much, much more than it ever received. Taylor went on to record his final solo project a few years later and the band has been known to regroup for special events and festivals, but nothing is in the works for further recording. It’s amazing that album is 20 years old as it sounds current, fresh and modern; much more so than just about anything else in this Top 25.