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CCM’s 100 Most Important Artists

January 7, 2013 5 comments

Finally…the new blog is here!

http://ccms100mostimportantartists.wordpress.com/

 

No Man’s Land – Charlie Peacock

October 9, 2012 7 comments

NO MAN’S LAND (2012)

Charlie Peacock

Perhaps it is only fitting that I follow up a review of one of the most celebrated and revered artists in mainstream music with a nearly equally celebrated and revered artists in Christian music. In fact, there are moments on Peacock’s brilliant offering here that may even cause the listener to pause a moment and reflect on some of Dylan’s finer moments. There is a rough, southern Americana, bluegrass, country feel that has been embraced by Dylan’s palette on more than a handful of occasions.

There is so much to like here that a quick review really is an injustice.

After working with the best selling and critically acclaimed and awarded The Civil Wars, Peacock here delivers his own take on truly American music. More bluesy and soulful and clearly less funky and poppy than previous Peacock offering, “No Man’s land” clearly ranks among Peacock’s finest. Do not bother trying to track down any songs on your local CCM station, there is nothing here that will ever grace the airwaves of modern Christian radio. There is a lot of Dylan, Elvis Costello and John Hiatt here, though, as Peacock reaches deep in the American soundtrack to deliver twelve utterly brilliant songs.

Self-produced and self-released, there was no compulsion to create three and half minute radio gems that often populated previous Peacock works. Here the songs are allowed to grow, breathe and develop into real, sparkling gems that will, with very little doubt, last beyond whatever their current format for delivery’s shelf life. I guess a 12 year sabbatical will do that to an artist.

The album starts with the soulful country-tinged “Death Trap.” The lyric comes across as somewhat of lyrical reworking of James’ warning about the tongue. Peacock pleads with the Lord to help him hold his tongue in the face of an angry response, but the struggle seems overwhelming. Peacock also seems to channel the Apostle Paul when he bemoans his own inability to not do what he knows better not to do.

The hauntingly beautiful “Mystic” follows with the one song that sounds like it could have appeared on “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” or at least would have been under considerable consideration by T-Bone Burnett. Burnett is probably not too far off of a comparison, but the swampy groove has a touch of John Hiatt as well (other songs later really exploit that wonderful sound).

The more Gospel grooved “Voice of the Lord” is the closest to any previous Peacock material with the brass section and funky groove. Peacock is also more vocally soulful here than just about anywhere else on the project. In fact, the song may have fit quite comfortable on one of the three “West Coast Diaries” projects, while sounding perfectly in place here.

The clear stand out, though, is “Kite In a Tree.” The musical marriage with an utterly brilliant lyric makes for just about a perfect song. I do not know of too many artist that would dare rhyme “construct” with “thumb-suck,” but Peacock not only manages to do, he does it with a intellectually honest discussion of the struggles of faith. The chorus owns the finest hook on the project and the six plus minutes seem all too short. This is where a comparison may find their most difficult representation, but it’s not far from Bruce Cockburn during his “Dragon’s Jaws” days. If any song deserves the “repeat” button it is this one.

“Deep Inside a Word” immediately impressed me as a song Elvis Costello would be proud to include in his repertoire. The song nearly stops at moments and then comes raging back with a little touch of Italian street music combined with Louisiana blues. Peacock is best when his voice feels caught between breaths; struggling for that last gasp of emotion. It is disappointing not to have the credits handy as the musicians deserve major kudos for their performances here.

My dad used to complain that there was too much country on the radio and not enough western. “Let the Dog back in the House” is more the latter than the former. If Peacock could have kept the lyrics simple, perhaps about building a ship to take you over the Jordan, the song could have become a Southern Baptist staple.

The Peacock fan in me makes me love “Beauty Left the Room” all the more because of how much it is completely a “Peacock” tune. His emotional approach to subtle delivery is unsurpassed and is best exemplified on this track. If you can’t “feel it” you are clearly not paying attention.

It would be far to easy to skip passed “Until My Body Comes Undone” because of just how quiet it is. But that would be huge mistake. I don’t know why, but this song, more than any other on the project, reminds me of John Hiatt. Hiatt’s gravelly, swamp-infested voice even seems to influence Peacock’s delivery. It is never rushed. He never lets a work drip passed his lips without pulling every ounce of guts from it. Again, the musicianship here is brilliant as it carries a very slow, at times almost invisible backdrop, for over six minutes, without letting the listener off the hook. If anything, one is drawn closer to the speakers as not to miss a single note.

“Thinkin’ Till the Crack of Dawn” has me completely convinced that if Terry Taylor and company ever needs someone to join The Lost Dogs, it would not be stretch to invite Charlie Peacock. If someone told me the song was co-written by Taylor and Mike Roe I would not have flinched.

Up until now, “No Man’s Land” has been filled with deep, dark and introspective tunes. That all changes with “Ghost of the Kitty Cat.” The rollicking, Cajun-funked bop fest is a sheer delight. There is a touch of rockabilly and a sassy delivery that seems initially out of place against the backdrop of the rest of album, but when taken as a whole, it would have been a great oversight musically to ignore this form of Americana music.

The slower, more emotionally stirring sound returned with “Only You can.” Taking a cue from the Psalms, Peacock is back in the emotional pocket with an introspective look at failings and the need for hanging on to the one who does not fail or fall. Brokenness is a common theme on this project and it matches quite well the musical landscape Peacock has created; few songs fit better than this.

It should be noted that there is not a single “filler” song to be had on this project. Each songs has a life all unto its own. This is most obviously demonstrated with the albums closer, “Satellites.” Soulful and slow, but with a huge musical experience driving the chorus. Previous Peacock projects focused on funky brass section to drive the hook, here they simply carry the melody and heighten the experience. The big chorus that brings the album to a close sounds like it has a chanced to be a live favorite. It also appears to be a studio moment where the musicians could let loose and not be fearful of bringing down the house at Peacock vamps his final words.

Twelve years is far too long between vocal albums from this masterful artists, but a wait worth living as he so delivered on this project. An interesting side note here is that until about 18 months ago, Peacock had no plans to record another pop/vocal album. he had been staying busy producing and writing for others. The project came from some study of his ancestry and the impact of a diverse musical heritage his family experienced. Whatever the reason, this fan is so appreciative to have peacock, the artist, back in true form. I cannot begin to guess where this album would be ranked, but I do not believe any other project outside of “Lie Down in the Grass” would be its equal.

Tempest – Bob Dylan

September 13, 2012 9 comments

TEMPEST

Bob Dylan

Once upon a time I would be able to tell you the street date of an upcoming Dylan release and would bet I would be the first of my friends to purchase it. But the 1990’s and 2000’s became spotty for Dylan releases, both quantitatively and qualitatively. For every one “Modern Times” and “Time Out of Mind” there were two “Oh Mercy’s” and “Good As I Been To You’s.” But a few months ago I heard rumblings that not only was Dylan releasing an album of fresh new music, but that it was to be his most “religious” album thematically since “Shot of Love.”

My interest was piqued.

This week Dylan released his 35th album, “Tempest,” and delivered an epic album an so many levels. It is both epic in length with only two of the ten songs coming in under four minutes and the inclusion of a 13-minute tour de force.

It is folky, sweet and swinging music filled with dark, somber and deeply moving lyrics. yes, it is Dylan’s most religiously tinged project since the trilogy (Slow Train Coming, Saved, Shot of Love), but no more so than the brilliant “Infidels.” In fact, it is the latter album that this current release reminds me the most of. Not so much musically as lyrically. There are clear evangelical imagery, mixed with human frailty and the darker sensibilities of Dylan’s best.

Most enjoyable is the interplay between human emotions, sexual tensions and spiritual phrasings. Initially some may find this merging confusing or uncomfortable, but it is what makes the album so intriguing and compelling. It does not drag you to the bedroom kicking and screaming, it dances with you slowly and leads to the bed. There is nothing commercial here and don’t expect to hear the album much on radio.

I do not want to spoil the wonderful wordplay here, I only suggest you pick it up and discover it for yourself. The true brilliance is the lack of context of common phrases. What I mean by that is Dylan’s penchant for using a common spiritual phrase to describe that which is carnal and using carnal phrases to describe that which is deeply, authentically spiritual.

The only song I want to bring up is the epic title track. At first one is wondering where the song is going, but by the end wishing it would continue. It is my favorite Dylan ballad since “Every Grain of Sand.” The song uses painful human experiences like the sinking of the Titanic to describe the human condition and need for hope, mercy and grace. Its brilliance is in the simplicity and the emotional impact more than crafty words.

This first review of the blogs new direction is a clear choice for an album that will appear in any upcoming, comparable list.

New Direction

September 11, 2012 11 comments

OK…what to do with this blog. I haven’t posted in forever and yet it is still pulling in a ton of visitors a day. I know the countdown is done, but i want to continue with a similar theme without having to start a new blog. Plus, hopefully new posts will keep people coming and introduce new readers to the blog.
So, here is what my plan is to do.

I am going to make note and review albums that were released after the countdown started that, by rule, could not be included in the countdown. I will also review albums that should have been included, but i did not own at the time and believe would be counted if I was do the countdown all over again. The purpose will be to let readers know of quality releases that will receive heavy consideration when the Top 100 Albums blog starts in 2020!

So…stay tuned.

The Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda List

April 25, 2012 63 comments

Here is the famous (infamous) list of albums that in hindsight should have been included. Some were left off by pure and simple oversight while others were left off and, after further consideration, should have been included. Some were even missed because of being lost while cutting and pasting from several different compiling lists. Some will just be listed; others will receive more detailed explanation.I will also list where the album may have appeared.

The list is longer then anticipated originally.

100% PROOF – 100% Proof (1981) – Recorded in the late 70’s and finally making it’s way to record shelves (or at least the bands trunks at concerts), this debut rocked with a Southern groove that few other bands touched. More Molly Hatchet and Lynard Skynard than AC/DC (the band they are most often compared to), this debut was just really cool and actually had guitar solos. A real highlight is the rock ballad about the life of AC/DC’s late lead singer, Bon Scott. (High 400’s)

2ND CHAPTER OF ACTS – IN the Volume of the Book (1975) – One the groups best and most “rockin'” albums with Yaweh, Now That I Belong To You and hey Watcha Say. A young Phil Keaggy sounds really nice on many of these tracks. (Mid 200’s)

THE 77’s – Drowning with Land In Sight (1994) – As if Mike Roe was not represented enough, the hardest and most blistering rock record of the bands history was left off. The Zeppelin cover that kicks off the album should have been enough to force inclusion. For me, though, the real treat is Snowblind. Roe’s penchant for hooks can be found on the beautiful Film at 11. (Low 200’s)

ADRIAN SNELL – Firelake (1975) – How I missed this is totally a blow it on my part. Britain’s biggest selling CCM artist had two albums that easily should have made the list. His debut here is wonderful and fans of jesus Music will find much to enjoy. (Mid 300’s)

ADRIAN SNELL – The Passion (1980) – Combining classical, Jesus Music, Church Music and CCM, this musical look at the final week of christ’s life was a predecessor to many that would follow. (Low 400’s)

AGAPE – Gospel hard Rock (1971) – As one of the very first “hard rock” albums in CCM history, the album deserved inclusion for that fact alone. WAY ahead of the curve here. But the record itself is also quite good and combines a soulful jazz with the late 60’s blues rock. (High 400’s)

THE ALARM – Eye of the Hurricane (1987) – The bands most pop oriented release is still filled with enough great songs that I should have included it. Oddly enough, it is the album I listen to the most over 20 years later. (Mid 400’s)

ALBRECHT, ROLEY & MOORE – Take it to the People (1981) – The supergroup of sorts released a few albums and this one was leaps and bounds above most of the straight ahead pop music in CCM at the time. (High 300’s)

ANDRAE CROUCH – Soulfully (1972) – Should have been included. Period! (High 100’s)

ANDRAE CROUCH – Keep on Singin’ (1975) – A Gospel classic that also contains one of the Top 50 greatest songs of the CCM era with My Tribute. (Low 100’s – maybe higher)

ANDRUS BLACKWOOD & CO. – Following You (1978) – One of the truly first CCM albums. Very current for the day with touches of Chicago, the Commodores and Earth, Wind and Fire. The title track is awesome. (High 300’s)

ASHLEY CLEVELAND – God Don’t Never Change (2009) – Shawn is right. This should have been included. perhaps when i started the list it was just too fresh. No excuse, though. (Mid 200’s)

BJ THOMAS – Home Where I Belong (1976) – The first real crossover (at least from mainstream to CCM) album. It is filled with several songs that were just as good and memorable as any Thomas had as a megastar in pop music. The silky, soulful tones of Thomas’ voice is pure gold. The Pat Terry penned title track is a real classic.(Mid 300’s)

BARRATT BAND – Playing in the City (1981) – I had lost this album while doing the list and completely missed it. I have since tracked down a copy and believe it deserved to be there. Barratt is one the finest guitarists in CCM history. He passed away last year. (High 400’s)

BE BE & CE CE WINANS – Heaven (1988) – The brother-sister combo released more than a handful of very successful records. This was their best. It has Keith Thomas production written all over it. The album reached number one on the Billboard albums chart. (Mid 200’s)

BELIEVER – Extraction from Morality (1989) – Of all of the hard core, speed metal albums left off this list…this is one of them. Actually quite good and displays better musicianship than most. (Low 400’s)

BILLY CROCKETT – Carrier (1984) – As mentioned in a response elsewhere this album was one of two Crockett albums I had on the original list. the lead track is just a monster hit. (Low 400’s)

BILLY CROCKETT – Watermarks (1998) – Released as Crockett’s career was waning, it was his best. Wonderfully crafted, brilliantly and passionately performed. these are the best songs in Crockett’s repertoire. (High 200’s)

BOB AYALA – Joy By Surprise (1976) – better than most CCM for the time. Very well produced and finely crafted songs. In the style of John Denver, Harry Chapin and Dan Fogelberg. Ayala was one of the bridge artists from Jesus Music to CCM and his music was superior than most. (High 300’s)

BOB DYLAN – Modern Times (2006) – Was on my original list. Not sure where it went. A collection of 6 minutes tunes that are the most obvious expressions of faith since Infidels. (Late 200’s)

BRUCE COCKBURN – Salt, Sun & Time, The Trouble With Normal, Night Vision, Inner City Front, Joy Will Find a Way – Let’s be honest, pretty much everything Cockburn has done could have been included.

BRYN HAWORTH – The Gap (1980) – This is one of a few that should have been included. But this one was DEFINITELY on the original list. Best slide guitarist in CCM and a brilliant singer-songwriter. The Gap was the one album that truly made it across the pond. (High 100’s)

DANIEL AMOS, TERRY SCOTT TAYLOR, LOST DOGS & SWIRLING EDDIES – Everything Ever Recorded! (Will that satisfy everyone?) OK…if anything should have been added it would be Bibland and the self-titled debut.

DAVID CROWDER BAND – Church Music (2009) – My penchant for hating nearly everything called “modern worship” music kept this masterpiece off the list. It deserves inclusion. (Mid 200’s)

DAVID MARTIN – Stronger Than the Weight (1985) – This great pop album was on the list until the very last cut. In hindsight this fine songwriter deserves to be recognized. (Late 300’s)

DAVID MEECE – 7 (1985) David Meece deserved more than one album on the countdown. Not being a fan of his Gino Vanelli oriented later material it is clear that “7” is one of his best and should have been included. (Late 300’s)

DEGARMO & KEY – No Turning Back (1989) – In hindsight i should have blown off my “no live album” rule for this album. Not only one of the best Christian rock live albums, simply one of the best live albums ever. the extended jams on Jericho, Long Distance Runner and Emmuel make this a real treat. The band proved they were a collection of some of the finest musicians assembled in CCM. (50-100)

DEITIPHOBIA – Clean (1994) – One of my rules is that I had to own the album and have it in my possession to honestly review and include it. I had lost my copy and, therefore it did not make the list. It would now. (Low 300’s)

DENNY CORRELL – How Will They Know (1980) – One of CCM’s best voices deserved more than one album included. This title would be the best shot at making it. (Low 400’s)

ELI – Second Hand Clothes (1999) – Now the News could just have easily been included as well. What a great songwriter. this is one of those examples of losing a title in the cut and paste world. (High 200’s)

FARRELL & FARRELL – Portrait of Us All (1979) – This MUST have been a cut and paste loss. I had this ranked quite high. It is one of the best examples of taking Jesus Music into the CCM world with VERY current music, great production and songwriting that was not trite or silly. Several real classics can be found here. Possibly one of the 10 most important albums of the time. (Mid 100’s)

THE FRAY – How To Save a Life (2005) – I went back and forth about whether to include this album or not. I should have. Though not as blatant as other “mainstream” releases that were included, the faith of the band members is rather common knowledge and their content is smart and creative. (High 100’s)

GEOFF MOORE & THE DISTANCE – Foundations (1994) – Uh…duh! Should have been there. The cover of Lone Justice’s “I Found Love” is great and the whole albums Springsteenesque rock and roll was spot on for the times and still sounds good today. (Mid 200’s)

GLAD – Captured in Time (1982) – A group as original and ground breaking as Glad deserved more recognition. They did tend to suffer from having several good song on average albums. This album, though, was solid throughout. It also closes with one of the most beautiful songs of the CCM era, Be Ye Glad. (Low 300’s)

GLENN KAISER & DARRELL MANSFIELD – Trimmed and Burning (1990) – Another victim of cut and paste. Should be a top 100 contender, but most likely would have fallen somewhere in the mid 100’s. The first of several great acoustic blues album from both artists.

GREG AND REBECCA SPARKS – Field of Your Soul (1994) – This is one of the most embarrassing oversights. There is not a single tune not worthy of repeated listens. Though not a fan of Rebecca’s voice in the pop world of Bash-n-the-Code, this is real, stark and honest rock and roll, and the voice works…perfectly. Carve a Tunnel alone is worth including this album. That song will appear quite high in the Top 1,000 songs countdown. If this song does not send chills up and down your spine…you are dead! (Low 100’s)

GREG X VOLZ – The River is Rising (1986) – The omission of this album was based solely on my dislike of Volz’s vocals and some personal run-ins over the years. that should not have been enough to have the album excluded. (Low 400’s)

HARVEST – Only the Overcomers (1986) – The best album from a group that put out consistently really good releases. (Low 400’s)

IMPERIALS – Let the Wind Blow (1985) – The best of the later, more pop releases from the group that has had more personnel changes than any other CCM group. But there was no missing of stride here. Paul Smith took a more front and center position on this album, giving a much more contemporary sound. The title track was musically quite a stretch for the group and it worked quite well. (Late 300’s)

JOE ENGLISH – Held Accountable (1982) – For several years Joe English was the toast of the CCM world. Former drummer of Paul McCartney & Wings, any artist with mainstream success was given red carpet treatment in the CCM market. he did make several very good and one great album. He know claims to have not been a Christian at the time and an alcoholic and drug user during this era. Many people have refuted this part of his current testimony and believe he has been brainwashed by a cult. Seriously. It’s very odd. (High 400’s)

JOHN FISCHER – Johnny’s Cafe (1978) – In all honesty about 5 John Fischer albums probably deserved placement on the list. I did not own all of them until recently. One I did own that should have been included was this one. (Mid 300’s)

LIFEHOUSE – No Name Face (2000) – The proof that cutting and pasting can be dangerous is that no Lifehouse album made the list. Uh…not only would this album chart, so would Lifehouse (Mid 300’s) and Who We Are (Mid 200’s). This would be a Top 100 release without a doubt.

M. WARD – Hold Time (2009) – Probably would have caused a little stir if included, so i left it off. In retrospect it deserves inclusion if similar releases like Mercy Seat also made the list. (Mid 200’s)

MAD AT THE WORLD – Boomerang (1991) – serving as the transitional album from the Euro synth first two releases, Boomerang rocked with a pretty ferocious attitude. Isn’t Sex a Wonderful Thing along should have been enough to have the album included. (Low 400’s)

MALCOLM & ALWYN – Wildwall (1974) – Should have been included no doubt. (Mid 400’s)

MATTHEW WARD – Armed and Dangerous (1987) – Released nearly a decade after his debut the wait was clearly worth it. The album’s closing track, Love, is just stunning. (Mid 400’s)

MERCY ME – Almost There (2001) – I Can Only Imagine is probably enough to have included this album. Not a great record as much as a strong selection of individual songs. (High 400’s)

MICHAEL ANDERSON – Love is the Hardest Part & Saints and Sinners – Clearly both should have been included. the first in the low 400’s and the second in the high 100’s. Cut and Paste victim…had to be.

MICHELE PILLAR – Michele Pillar (1982) – Pillar’s CCM solo debut (after her masterpiece release with Erick Nelson) proved to be a real gem. Filled with great pop and smart lyrics. (Mid 300’s)

MO LEVERETT – For the Benefit of Desire (1993) – One of the first Storyville releases and one of the best. Edgy and challenging acoustic rock. For a bluesy Bruce Cockburn fan. (High 300’s)

PAUL FIELD – Restless Heart (1982) Easily one of the best pop rock releases of the early 80’s and was only not included because I had lost it. I recently found a copy and have no doubt it would rank amongst the best of its era. Field has written several hits for Cliff Richard and Rebecca St. James. A clear AYSO! (Low 100’s)

PHIL & JOHN – Pick one…doesn’t matter. Actually I originally had two albums included on the list. Carnival of Clowns was in the 200’s and Don’t Look Now was in the low 300’s.

RANDY STONEHILL – The Sky is Falling (1980) – I clearly let my general dislike for the album impact the fact that it probably deserves being listed. But my general dislike would not let me rate it higher than the low 400’s. The good songs are really quite good, but songs like bad Fruit and the seemingly never ending Through the Glass Darkly and Venezuela make it rough to listen to regularly. Someone could have used a little editing in the studio.

REBECCA ST JAMES – God (1996) – St. James most likely deserved to have some representation on the list. this would be her best effort. (High 300’s…maybe?)

RICHIE FURAY – I’ve Got a Reason (1976) – Seriously? I left this off? Moron! Former Poco front man put together a legitimate country driven progressive rock album for the ages. It was originally released on a secular label and featured Love Song members Truax and Mehler as well as help from Michael Omartian. Not a single “miss” on this. Deserved high placement. (Low 100’s)

SAM PHILLIPS – Martinis and Bikinis (1994) – Possibly the best “Sam” album (High 100’s)

SEAWIND – Light the Light (1979) – One of the last albums to be excluded from the list. My bad. In retrospect the sheer musical presence is overwhelming and deserves a placement on the list. (Low 300’s)

SEPTEMBER – SEPTEMBER FIRST (1981) – Would have easily made the list if I still owned a copy at the time of compiling the list. I lost it over the years (I’m guessing Shawn has it). I have tracked down a digital copy and it is even better than I remember it. Imagine Servant as an AOR and borderline progressive rock back in the vein of Styx with much more melody and more ballads. It is progressive for its musical diversity and changes within a single song. the opening track is a great example. An AYSO. (High 200’s)

SHADES OF BLUE – Shades of Blue (1994) This acoustic jazz project headed up by guitar god Lanny Cordola slipped through the cracks to most CCM fans. But it is really delicious. Cool and soulful. (High 400’s)

STEVE SCOTT – Lost Horizon (1989) – Possibly the most discussed omission. I really struggled with whether to include the album given just how much of the album appears on other projects. probably should have been listed. (High 100’s)

TONIO K. – Ole (1997) – What was I thinking? (High 200’s)

TWILA PARIS – Kingdom Seekers (1985) – In 20 years when someone decides to actually make hymnals again, there will be several songs from this album included. Lamb of God and he is Exalted are truly classics in the most authentic use of the word.

VIGILANTES OF LOVE – Blister Soul (1995) & Welcome to Struggleville (1994). Another artist that many complained was not represented enough (4 releases). If other albums were to be included I would say both of these easily qualify. Blister would be in the mid-300’s and Welcome in the high 200’s.

WES KING – The Robe (1998) – Should have been Top 100. Total cut and paste loss…my bad big time!

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Have fun!

Why the Long Pause

January 6, 2012 8 comments

I decided to write a quick note here to thank everyone for their patience with this extended pause over the Holidays (and longer) before finishing the countdown.

I would like to blame work, or the kids, or the wife, or even the Holidays themselves for the delay, but…

The truth of the matter is I am in the midst of an internal quarrel. I made several changes to the countdown as it proceeded, dropping some albums, adding others and even moving around several albums in the Top 100 to get the list exactly how I wanted it. I have had a firm 4 thru 10, though i did move one or two around in the weeks leading up to the Top 25.

But I have never had a solid Top 3. I have had the three albums I chose for the top 3 and they have never wavered. But each of them have found themselves listed in the 1, 2 or 3 spots countless times.

All three are amazing projects (obviously), but listing a number one over the other two has been difficult. One is deserving because it is the singularly most important release in the history of CCM while also being an artistic achievement for its time, or any time. Another is simply one of the greatest albums ever recorded in or out of Christian music and the third represents what I believe is the finest and most authentic collection of songs in a cohesive unit that any CCM artists have ever mustered to deliver. They literally could be 1a, 1b, and 1c.

But I believe I have justified to myself the finalized Top 3 ranking and will proceed with the reviews over the next several days…

7. Alarma – Daniel Amos

November 22, 2011 7 comments

ALARMA (1981)

Daniel Amos

give up
repent
good riddance
and all God’s blessings on
“the band that won’t go away”

Camarillo Eddie (The Swirling Eddies)

The roots of Daniel Amos and the long and treacherous road the band traveled to reach the cult-like status and well deserved and long lasting relationship with its fan base in a unique story.

When they band first was born another Calvary Chapel band had a similar name and both bands decided to change their names. One band became Gentle Faith and the other, featuring Terry Taylor, chose the name Daniel Amos. Both bands were signed to Maranatha! Music and while Gentle Faith only recorded one album before front-man Darrell Mansfield went on to a long and successful ministry and career, it would be Daniel Amos that would make the greater impact on Christian Music.

Before recoding their first full-length release Daniel Amos recorded several “singles” that would appear on different Maranatha Music compilation albums including “Ain’t Gonna Fight It” and the long time favorite “ode to marital fidelity,” “Happily Married Man.” Both would be added to a special CD-reissue of the classic album.

The first Daniel Amos album (released in 1976) was a self-titled, country music classic that sounded more like The Eagles than Willie Nelson, and that sound was difficult for the band to later overcome. Another never-ending problem was that many fans thought Terry Taylor was Daniel Amos and would thank “Mr. Amos” for their great music and ministry. It was also during this time that the band would wear these huge 10-gallon cowboy hats that I often thought was more parody than possessing any real affinity for the musical genre.

There are so many amazing songs from this album that briefly discussing the album does it no justice. Highlights include the Jehovah’s Witness critique, “Jesus is Jehovah To Me” and another “apologetic” tune, “The Bible.” The latter sounding more like The Eagles than just about any other Daniel Amos song.

William, Losers and Winners and Walking on the Water would remain favorites for fans for many, many years. There were also songs that were so “hokey” that the listener can’t help but believe they were part parody. “Ridin’ Along” comes straight from dusty prairie cowboy movie and “Dusty Road” follows with the same feel. Taylor’s wry sense of humor would be visible in songs like “Abidin’” and “Skeptic’s Song.”

I noticed that from the several times I saw Daniel Amos in concert that those more “hokey” songs would be reworks drastically and come across as significantly more edgy and less country.

Hidden amongst the large hates, spurs and 1-3 beats were great lyrics and amazing vocal harmonies that would remain a staple for many years, even through the alternative, new wave albums. No matter the musical genre the band progressed through the heart of the band’s sound was always more Beatles than Eagles or Talking Heads. The Beatles influence would show itself more on the follow-up Jesus Music classic, Shotgun Angel than what was explored on the debut.

It should be fair to note here that those that believe the jump from country music darlings to rock rebels was a radical and unexpected shift simply did not listen closely enough to each album. There were hints of the future sound the band would present on “Shotgun Angel” on the debut and side two of Angel gives plenty of musical hints as to what was to follow with Horrendous Disc.

But what made “Shotgun Angel” such an important album in history?

Side one of the 1977 released album most resembles the debut with strong Eagles tinged Americana country, but with much more of an electric feel and vocals influenced more by the Beach Boys “Pet Sounds” than previously displayed. The electric guitar is also featured more often.

The album also features limited spacing between songs as many flow from one to another. This is even more prevalent on side two, which is more of a “rock opera” than anything else as the breaks are nearly indistinguishable. The more obviously country leanings are reserved for a more humorous approach like what is found in “Black Gold Fever” and “Meal.”

Songs like “Praise Song” and “The Whistler” would show glimmers as to what would show up on “Horrendous Disc.” In fact when one listens to side two of Shotgun Angel it’s hard to not note the sounds that would become “Horrendous Disc.” The guitar of “Better” would become a trademark sound that would follow Daniel Amos as long as Jerry Chamberlain was involved.

The much ballyhooed side two of the album is actually a mini rock opera dealing with a specific eschatological viewpoint that was and remains quite popular. The Jesus Movement had a few very foundational viewpoints. One of them was the soon expected “Pre-Tribulational” Rapture of the Church and the coming rise of the Antichrist and Tribulation his arrival would usher in.

The story starts with a beautiful instrumental overture that would serve as a musical backdrop for the albums final songs.

“Lady Goodbye” picture the Church disappearing – at Christ’s “first” Second Coming – in a pre-tribulation rapture scenario with the main character being left behind to endure the coming tribulation complete with four horsemen (The Whistler) and “mark of the Beast” (He’s Gonna Do a Number on You). “Better” describes the supposed “cashless society” that is to accompany that time and man’s belief and admiration of the Antichrist.

Awakening from the horrible dream to find that it is all real the main character embraces the call of the Gospel no matter what the cost. “Posse in the Sky” reveals the “second” Second Coming, this time with the angels and previously raptured Church in tow bringing final judgment against the earth. All those done in a country/cowboy theme evident with words like “Possee” and “Shotgun”.

In 1986 Terry and band would re-release side two of Shotgun Angel as a project called “Revelation” through Frontline Records at the 10th Anniversary of the original. The reworking included brand new mixes and a new song called “Soon.” This version also included Pastor Chuck Smith reading relevant passages from the book of Revelation.

Those familiar with this particular eschatological views will find the message of the songs familiar. Even those like myself that do not hold to this particular can find the project powerful, exhorting and encouraging. Agreement on such issues are not as vital as noting that Paul challenged the Church in Thessalonica to encourage one another with the affirmation of Christ’s coming.

Daniel Amos would begin recording “Horrendous Disc” in late 1977 and early 1978. The album was finished and the masters were brought to Maranatha! Music. At that same time Maranatha! Music decided to no longer release albums by rock artists and concentrated primarily on the new Praise and Worship line and children’s music. This classic album would be released just weeks before Alarma and the confusion it created in the industry and amongst fans was career threatening.

The musical leap from Shotgun Angel to Alarma is staggering, but it is not quite as drastic when Horrendous Disc is placed in between. Many fans bought Alarma before they even knew Horrendous Disc existed. If HD would have been released when it should have, the progression would have appeared more natural, though probably never quite expected.

Word Record acquired the masters from Maranatha! in early 1978. They eventually leased them to Larry Norman’s Solid Rock label. This put Daniel Amos in friendly territory with artists like Mark Heard, Alwyn Wall and longtime friend Randy Stonehill. It also started the longest and most frustrating three years in the bands tenure.

During that time Terry and band would build a long-lasting friendship with Randy Stonehill which included several long tours where Daniel Amos would serve as Stonehill’s band as well as perform their own set. Terry would produce three albums for Stonehill, the most notable being Stonehill’s classic “Equator.” Those famous tours were known as the Amos and Randy Tour.

During those tours and other concerts they would begin playing songs from “Horrendous Disc.” They would continue to play those songs for three years with no album to support. Test pressings of the album were sent out to radio stations in 1979 and also sent to the band to sell at concerts. The album contained a different mix and different order of songs. Those issues would be the least of their problems as the album would still not be released for another two years.

This issue (along with others too ugly to address) caused a rift with Norman that would never be healed. Even in 2000 when Norman finally released the album on CD it contained bonus cuts by Norman that fans (myself included) hated. And when Taylor approached Norman in 2006 to re-release the CD as a Deluxe version Norman agreed, but then backed out and released another horrible version of the album, this time as a CDR with a horrible artwork copies.

The album did officially get released in 1981. About one week before their follow Alarma! hit the stores.

“Alarma!” was the first of an amazing 4-part album set that includes many of Daniel Amos’ greatest work. Each album contained a continuing story and lyrical content that matched. By the time the four album set was finished the band would have gone through four record companies (one for each release) and a name change of sorts. The first two albums used the entire name, Daniel Amos, while the third used the DA with a small font for the name and the final album, Fearful Symmetry, would sport only the DA moniker.

1983′s “Doppelganger” was a darker and much more haunting release. It was also much more personal and dealt with the sins of the individual as well as the sins of the Church. Though the more outward attacks against commercialism (New car, Mall All Over the World) and televangelist (I Didn’t Build It For Me) were easy targets it is the more introspective and personal songs that pack a real punch.

1984′s “Vox Humana” would be the most commercially accessible of the four projects. Sounding m a little more like David Bowie and Talking Heads, the songs are more pop and commercial sounding. there were even some singles that penetrated Christian radio.  Southern California’s famous KYMS even played a few songs included the very popular “Sanctuary.” The album is more upbeat and brighter lyrically and lends itself to the poppier musical edge.

The final album in the series, Fearful Symmetry, would be hailed by many as their greatest artistic achievement. Of course many would also reserve that for every DA album upon its release. Fearful Symmetry would contain upbeat rhythms and melodies, but a more haunting vocal production to give the album an “other-worldly” feel to it. The album would also contain one of DA’s most successful rock radio single, The Pool.

Each album that makes up the 4-part series would appear on a different label, making a cohesive marketing opportunity utterly impossible. Distribution was limited for some, OK for others. Musical direction would change, occasional shifts in band personnel and much too expensive tours would cause financial strain. Yet, all the while, the band created fresh, dynamic and lasting art with each release.

But it really all started with Alarma.

Those that discovered Alarma before they ever heard “Horrendous Disc” must have been utterly surprised the listener. Without thew knowledge of the transitional album Alarma was shocking to say the least. There was also controversy surrounding the album cover with the band members having their eyes blurred over. More than a few televangelist would make claims of Satanic origin of the cover. Of course they never bothered to note how the eyes appeared elsewhere on the project.

The symbolism of the cover would be all too apparent in the lyrical content on the album. Reviewers described the album as having some of the most scathing commentary of the Church and society ever recorded. No one safe from Taylor’s attacks. Remaining blind to the injustices and the downtrodden would be a theme that would be repeated over and over. Songs like Face to the Windows, Alarma, Big Time/Big Deal, Props, My Room and others would all deal directly with an apathetic Church that hides behind its own facade.

Musically Alarma and the entire series would find itself squarely in the forefront of the burgeoning Christian punk/new wave scene. Others came right before and after, but few matched the lyrical precision and musical chops of DA. Carrying the banner of both a musical genre and a lyrical assault must have not been easy.

“Central Theme” starts the record and the series off with a realization that the central theme in life is that of knowing Christ. In an odd way, it is a worship song of sorts.Lyrically one of Taylor’s finest doctrinal standards and brilliant musical landscape of other worldly, almost “science fiction” sounding music. This auditory theme would remain throughout this project as even as the content of the song reads like a hymn.

Who is on the throne you find, the King of Kings
He’s the one I have in mind, the central theme
Lord of Lords, Lord of lords, Lord of Lords…

The title track and series namesake follows with a “Twilight Zone” type synthesizer sound introducing Jerry Chamberlains crunchy and quirky guitar riff. Taylor’s melodic and utterly unique voice dives home a brilliant song that in the real world should have been a mainstay on stations like LA’s KROQ. The song sets the tone, musically and lyrically, for the entire project and introduces the theme of a Church blinded to the harsh realities of the needy while basking comfortably in its own safe zone. Yet it is the false teachings and false living within the walls of the church that causes many to reject the Christ of the “Central Theme.”

The “scarier” music moments for the uninitiated begin with “Big Time/Big Deal.” The frenetic new wave with a dual lyric vocal with an spoken work, electronic voice sits under Taylor’s near screeching and straining voice on top. The lure of thinking one could take the Gospel to the world and become a “rock star for Jesus” was an all too real enticement for many. The selfish motives of many in the music industry (Christian) are examined here. Chamberlain would really begin to fine tune his craft of off-kilter, winding and quivering guitar sound here.

The facade of the perfect Christian life is ripped to shreds in “Props,” couched in a melody that i can only describe as the Beach Boys doing old school “cowboy” music. Like something from a 1940’s musical movie the song somber message is not lost amongst the happy music. The facade that surround our lives are not unlike the movie props that are removed and disposed of when the scene is over.

The funky groove that permeates “My Room” reminds one of the great grooves created by the Talking Heads and should serve as a decent comparison at times. The consistent theme of exclusionary actions of the Church and the loneliness attached to a Church life without true community is repeated here.

“Faces to the Windows” is one of the scathing songs on the album and remains uncomfortable some 30 years later. Using the image of the starving children in Africa is juxtaposed against the sunshine, whistling world of many in the Church. Taylor tries, like most, to block out the faces pressed against the window of the television set while proceeding with a uniquely blessed life situation. The aggressive new wave musical expression takes on its finest form here.

“Cloak and Dagger” is just too short. Two minutes of brilliant musical and lyrical expressions. Using a James Bond type spy thriller melody that matches the lyrical content perfectly. After just one minute of pure 80’s punk goodness, the song shift musical direction completely with a one minute slow instrumental featuring a great guitar solo.

For those that hadn’t jumped ship by this time on the album, “The Real Thing” most certainly pushed them off the edge. Funky, punk and new wave with African rhythms sets the musical stage for an equally aggressive message. The Church has a long standing struggle with majoring on the minor issues and causing intense and lasting divisions over style, appearance and tradition. Whether it is the “drums” in the service or the “hats” worn in one Church over another, the struggle for authenticity and truth wages on.

After a keyboard instrumental of the melody from “Cloak and Dagger” in “C&D Reprise,” the album reaches a real musical zenith with “Through the Speakers.” With all the power music possesses the song realizes that ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit will be necessary to reach the intended audience.

A real musical shift takes place with the melodic and very poppy “Hit Them.” This very Brian Wilson like tune looks at the need for the Church to reach out with love and not just doctrine filled words. There is a warning here to not only believe the truth but to live accordingly. Like many songs on the album it remains much too short.

Taylor sets the Apostle Paul’s warning regarding remaining a “babe in Christ” to a brilliant early 80’s new wave groove that reminds me most of some of David Bowie’s more adventurous new wave attempts. The song revolves around many in the church who are content remaining well fed within its walls and never grow or mature spiritually. It’s not unlike Amy Grant’s “Fat baby” except this song doesn’t suck  :).

But the album’s winner of the “Way Too Stinking Short” award goes to the 80-second “Shedding the Mortal Coil.” Brilliant and way too short!

There is no way to escape the comparison to Horrendous Disc’s “Tidal Wave” with “Endless summer.” This rocking surfer tune seems to not only share a musical pedigree but also a similar theme of needing to find the truth in places where it cannot and will not be found. I do recall the song being a great fun ride live.

When one has a songwriting catalog as extensive as Terry Scott Taylor’s it is both foolish and nearly impossible to choose the “best song.” I will not make that foolish leap, but i find very few songs quite as lasting and wonderful as “Wall of Doubt.” Covered later by many artists including Jacob’s Trouble, the song is nearly perfect. A great and timeless melody mixed with a powerful message of the strength of the truth of the Gospel. The song sounds fresh right now even as I listen to it 30 years after is was first played. On an album filled with angst, anger and righteous indignation, the closing message of hope and grace is a just reward for those willing to take the journey.

The album closes with “Ghost of the Heart,” and would also serve as the opening track (in a way) for the follow up release, Doppelganger.

This was not the album many fans and the industry were expecting. It was the album anyone ever thought would be released by a Christian band. This adventurous display of brilliant songwriting, musicianship and sheer artistic brilliance has lasted way beyond the vast majority of disposable music created at the same time. It may not rank as the greatest album ever made, but it is clearly one of the most important and necessary. The world may not have changed in 1981…but mine did!

And we fans are forever grateful that Terry and company never went away.