12. Love Broke Thru – Phil Keaggy
LOVE BROKE THRU (1976)
Earlier today I received an email from a good friend and pseudo-industry type guy who follows the countdown. His comment regarding the last several additions was “classic after classic to the end now!” And, now an extent, I full agree. The albums included over the last ten or so would among many a fans top albums of all time.
But when it comes to defining a true classic, it may be here, with “Love broke Thru” that we address our first true classic. Nothing before this album, including Keaggy’s debut, would match this one for everything that makes a classic a classic. Great and timeless songs, an amazing production (especially given the financial constraints) and the amazing musicianship on display was unmatched. Even Keaggy would never duplicate the impressive guitar work until the Revelator album. And like Revelator, this is the one other Keaggy album that has both great guitar work and phenomenal songs. In fact, if other artists performed the same songs (some did) they would be great songs for that artists (are were).
I became familiar with most of the songs here through the amazing live album Keaggy released with 2nd Chapter of Acts discussed previously. As a result the only criticism i could ever have of the album is that the guitar solos did not quite match up to the ones found on the live album, but that is also a product of the medium, where a live album can expand and allow for artistic expression than a studio project.
There is not much that can be said about the artist that hasn’t been discussed here and on countless web pages across the universe. he is simply and undeniably brilliant and ultimately humble musician. The next person that says anything negative about Phil Keaggy will be the first.
After a good, but not great, debut album, “What a day,” Keaggy released this tour de force on an unsuspecting CCM market. Bearing the cross of one of the first artists to bridge the gap between Jesus Music and CCM, this album serves as precursor and ground breaker for the future industry.
The album starts with the title track, a song written by Randy Stonehill and Keith Green, along with unsung Jesus Music songwriter, Todd Fishkind. Green would place the song on his debut and Stonehill would record his version a decade later. When one listens to the melody and song structure you immediately think, “this song sounds like Phil Keaggy singing a Keith Green and randy Stonehill song.” It really is a homogenous blend of the three artists. It would also be counted among one of the great songs in CCM history; clearly a Top 50. Here we find Keaggy’s voclas at their very best and his guitar playing more subdued and subtle, playing mostly a role as support, but with perfect precision and great taste.
“Take Me Closer” is the definitive Keaggy song. Part rock, a little jazz and some funky grooves the song just rolls and is perfect “top down drive along the Pacific Coast” type rock. it also is where, for the first time since Keaggy’s Glass harp albums, that his guitar prowess takes center stage. The solo is phenomenal and is set against a great synthesizer solo from Michael Omartian. The band is nearly the same line up used by Barry McGuire on his best two releases except Keaggy uses Leland Sklar on bass. For the uninitiated, Leland Sklar is one of the greatest bass players ever!
One thing that immediately separates this album from others at the time is the instrumental break on “Take Me Closer.” When most other songs would end at the three minute mark, the band pauses for a second then branches out into an amazing instrumental lasting nearly two minutes and featuring Keaggy’s guitar prowess. This was nearly unheard of in the world of Jesus Music or CCM. Whether it was the belief that the music was only for evangelism sake and that long instrumental breaks were somehow arrogant and prideful, or that there were not enough quality musicians to sustain a prolonged instrumental and keep it compelling I do not know. What I do know is Keaggy could pull it off in spades.
For all the electric guitar wizardry Keaggy is known for, it is his acoustic work that truly amazes. “As the Ruin Falls” starts with a flute and acoustic solo for nearly two minutes before any vocals kick in. Musically it would point toward the amazing “The Master and the Musician” instrumental album Keaggy would release a short time later. The song looks at original sin and the selfish ways of a man’s heart. nearly liturgical sounding, the song sounds like it would fit on a John Michael Talbot album. The lyrics, though, are actually those of a poem written by CS Lewis.
“Wild Horse” is a personal favorite as it features a very Omartian type feel with a borderline acoustic/progressive sound with a wonderful string arrangement that carries the song. It also is another song that shows off not only Keaggy’s great speed, but his mastery of a tasteful solo that enhances, rather than overpowers, the song. Another rarity for its time, there are several instrumental breaks rather than limiting to just one as most of his contemporaries had done at the time.
Larry Knechtel’s impressive piano drives this and other songs on the project. Knechtel appeared on several Jesus Music albums including Barry McGuire’s first two releases, and would later become a renowned keyboardist working with Rick Rubin, Phil Spector as well as a host of others. His impressive piano work can be heard on Simon and Garfunkle’s classic, “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” He has been inducted into the rock and roll Hall of Fame.
“Disappointment” is a song for its time. By that I mean it sounds like it came straight off the radio in 1975, completely with happy, sing-song chorus and clap along acoustic guitar riff. I could see how in 1976 this was exactly what the music industry, especially CCM, was looking for. That is, until the bridge, which sounds like it copped straight from a Glass Harp song.
The whole world of Christian music changed in 7 minutes. That is how long it takes for “Time” to finish. The only complaint is that it would be too short tat twice the length. Time is the “Free Bird” of Christian music and is phenomenal, kicking rock song in or out of CCM. As mentioned previously, it was unheard of for an artist to have an extended instrumental break, but one lasting 4 minutes was border line sacrilege! And it was still WAY TOO SHORT! Fortunately the live version deals with that problem.
The instrumental solo give and take of Omartian, Knechtel and Keaggy – along with an impressive horn section – is utterly brilliant. But it’s ultimately about Keaggy’s guitar work which just soars and glides and lifts and dives. it is so powerful, stirring and majestic no review can really justify. It is guitar work like this that started the urban legends that have haunted Keaggy.It is not just the blazing speed, but the Keaggy trademark of finger the sustain control with his pinky while playing the lead, creating the original wah-wah sound he is noted for.
If Paul McCartney and Wings were ever to create a worship song, it would sound something like “Portrait.” What a beautiful song. The accompanying string arrangement could not be any more perfect. For the third time on the project Keaggy penned a musical landscape for a poem, this time one from Beatrice Clelland.
The rock returns quickly with “Just the Same,” another of the rock numbers that are painfully too short! The guitar solo is short but stunning. Again, I would recommend a listen to the live album to experience the extended guitar work. Producer Buck Herring (he of 2nd Chapter of Acts fame – sort of) co-wrote the song with Keaggy and is joined by Matthew ward, Annie Herring and Mylon LeFevere on backing vocals.
“Things I Will Do” takes Keaggy back to his classically tinged acoustic styling with great success. It does have Keaggy’s best vocals on the album and could have or should have been a popular modern worship song if there was anything at that time. Very Scriptural and plaintive.
The album closes with a song written by Keaggy and 2nd Chapter of Acts songwriter Annie Herring. “Abraham” traces the Biblical story of faith that belongs to the founding father of Jewish and christian faith. The song reminds the listener that the same promises given to Abraham are for all of God’s people.
“Love Broke Thru” was the album that all other rock albums that followed would be compared to. it also was a groundbreaking and important album. Larry Norman operated his brilliance outside of the CCM mainstream and was not limited by a record company executive, where Keaggy broke every barrier within the genre and forced a forward momentum that was never stopped.
A classic indeed!