Thursday, May 31, 2012


Phil Keaggy was born in Youngstown, Ohio on March 23, 1951.  At the age of four he lost half of his middle finger on his right hand due to an accident on the family farm involving a water pump.  He was the guitarist and vocalist for rock band Glass Harp who released three albums in the early 1970's.  They opened for the likes of Alice Cooper, the Kinks, and Yes.  Keaggy put out the first of his over 50 solo albums WHAT A DAY in 1973.  That summer he married Bernadette.  They had a rough go of it for a while.  She miscarried in 1975 with triplets.  In 1976 they had a son Ryan die after only a few days.  In 1977 there was another miscarriage.  God was good to them though and they had three kids.  Alicia was born in 1980, Olivia in 1984, and Ian in 1987.

Keaggy's bio states: "For three years in a row, Phil was voted one of the top fingerstyle guitarists by Guitar Player Magazine."  His 1978 album THE MASTER AND THE MUSICIAN was CCM's first instrumental album.  He has won several Dove Awards in that category.  My favourite Phil Keaggy albums are: PHIL KEAGGY AND SUNDAY'S CHILD (1988), CRIMSON AND BLUE (1993), TIME 1 AND 2 (1995), and TRUE BELIEVER (1995).  Phil's latest effort is THE COVER OF LOVE (2012, Strobie Records).  It is a collection of love songs recorded between 1997 and 2011, with half of them being covers.

'Between Wyomings' starts things off.  Ken Mansfield is the writer.  He was a young music executive with Capitol Records in the 1960's, helping the careers of the Beatles, Glen Campbell, Lou Rawls, and others.  In 1968 the Fab Four named him the U.S. manager of Apple Records.  Today he has a ministry which involves him being an author and speaker.  'Between Wyomings' finds him love sick: "Seems I've tried a thousand times/But I can't get you off my mind/They say that time is supposed to heal/But it always hurts me when I feel/Lost between Wyomings without your love/And baby, lately I've been havin' dreams about you."  The song would fit nicely on Larry Norman's 1970's albums SO LONG AGO THE GARDEN and IN ANOTHER LAND.  Phil's daughters provide backing vocals.  A fantastic cover of 'Good Vibrations' which was written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love in 1966 is up next.  The version here features lead and background vocals by Phil and Gene Miller.  Miller has toured with the likes of Kenny Loggins and Donna Summer.  He is currently a member of the Nashville Alternators, a group that includes CCM industry vets Chris Rodriguez and Tommy Sims.  'Good Vibrations' begins with these magical words: "I, I love the colorful clothes she wears/And the way the sunlight plays upon her hair/I hear the sound of a gentle word/On the wind that lifts her perfume through the air/I'm pickin' up good vibrations/She's giving me excitations."  'She Sees Me' written by Phil and Jon Sexton finds Carl Herrgesell on piano and B3 organ.  It speaks of the intimacy experienced in a love relationship: "Because there's so much there to see/Written between the lines/Oh how do I say it?/She is my best friend and she sees me for who I am/Because there's someone standing there/Standing right by my side/How do I say it?"  The song has a gentle, breezy sound to it.

'Where are you Love?' was written by Phil and Olivia Keaggy in 2011.  Olivia is on lead vocals, while Phil is on guitar and harmony vocals.  The song is a tender ballad about losing love: "Tell me, will you tell me while my heart is breaking?/Walk with me through the flame of the fire/Where are you love, where are you love?/Oh, did you mean to be leaving?/Speak to me/Walk with me."  On 2011's 'My Auburn Lady' Phil handles vocals, guitars, bass and percussion.  It is a soft number with ultra romantic lyrics written for his wife: "Ah, Bern, I am smitten o'er again/Ah Bern, by your beauty my dear friend/Ah Bern, and you know how much I do depend on you/It's true, my auburn lady/Ah Bern, so faithful through the years/Ah Bern, through the laughter, through the tears/Ah Bern, through my dark insides and foolish fears/I knew, I knew.../You to be a rock that I can cling to."  'Somedays' is from Paul McCartney's 1997 album FLAMING PIE.  Phil is responsible for lead and harmony vocals, guitars, mandolin, and keyboards.  The song includes the following words of someone blown away by the love they've found: "We don't need anybody else to tell us what is real/Inside each one of us is love/And we know how it feels/Somedays I look/I look at you with eyes that shine/Somedays I don't/I don't believe that you are mine/It's no good asking me what time of day it is/Who won the match or scored the goal/Somedays I look/Somedays I look into your soul." 

'I Want You, I Need You, I Love You' has an old time rock 'n' roll feel to it.  It was written by Maurice Mysels and Ira Koslof in 1956 and popularized by the one and only Elvis.  These words from it paint a picture of someone head over heels in love: "Ev'ry time you are near/All my cares disappear/Darling you're all that I'm living for/I want you, I need you, I love you/More and more.../Won't you please be my own?/Never leave me alone/'Cause I die ev'ry time we're apart/I want you, I need you, I love you/With all my heart."  'Voices in the Sky' was a hit single for the Moody Blues in 1968.  It includes these lyrics inspired by nature: "Bluebird, flying high/Tell me what you sing/If you could talk to me/What news would you bring/Of voices in the sky?/Nightingale, hovering high/Harmonize the wind/Darkness, your symphony/I can hear you sing/Of voices in the sky/Just what is happening to me?/I lie awake with the sound of the sea/Calling to me."  'Grow with Me' written by Phil and Michael Lewis is an excellent new rock song driven by electric guitar.  Drums are played by John Sferra of Glass Harp.  Read these passionate lyrics: "To have you by my side/I could never ask for more/And when you hold me it's so right/I love you, I do/And that's all she wrote/So let's keep the flame alive/And don't ever let me go/Never let me go/Let's keep the flame alive/And don't ever let me go/Never let me go (2X)."

The last three songs turn our attention to Divine Love.  'Motor of Love' is another Paul McCartney number, this time from 1989's FLOWERS IN THE DIRT.  It is a beautiful sounding, blatant song of testimony: "Motor of love, motor of love/Heavenly Father, look down from above;/I can't get over Your powerful motor of love/I can't get over Your love/No matter how lost I feel/I know my love is real thanks to You/You simply reached out Your hand/And touched me deep in my soul/Came in out of the cold, thanks to you/I won't steal anything from You/You give me more than enough."  'What Matters Most' written by Phil contains these spiritual words of invitation: "Come close to me and open your heart/Come here and listen, and open your eyes/Come and embrace, open your arms/What matters most is love never dies/Go to the sea of forgiveness/Go to the well that never runs dry/Walk in the land, the land of the living/What matters most is love never dies."  The closing track 'Where the Morning Dawns', written by Phil and Mike Radovsky, was inspired by author George MacDonald who died in 1905.  Musically this song that credits James Hollihan Jr. with trumpet and strings arrangement, will please Beatles fans.  Lyrically, it is a tribute to God who is Himself Love: "In the holy hush of the early dawn/Oh to hear a Voice speaking/'I am with you all day long'/And to know that Love has a Face/The giver of Amazing Grace."

THE COVER OF LOVE has on the cover a totally cute picute of Olivia Keaggy when she was four.  The album was produced, recorded, and mixed by Phil Keaggy at Kegworth Studio.  It was mastered by Mike Pachelli at Fullblast Recording Studio.  According to his bio: "These days, Phil Keaggy continues to delight audiences all over the U.S. performing primarily acoustic shows, and occasional concerts with a band."  In the liner notes Phil says: "Thank You my Lord for granting me grace, mercy and peace and love that endures through all eternity.  I am humbled and eternally grateful to You."  I recommend THE COVER OF LOVE to those who enjoy good pop music on the lighter side of things, and to those whose favourite Bible book is Song of Songs.  I'm rating this CD 87%.  For more info visit

Friday, May 25, 2012


John Schlitt was born on February 3, 1950 in Lincoln, Illinois.  From 1974 to 1980 he sang with the mainstream rock band Head East.  Their hits included 'Never Been Any Reason' and 'Since You Been Gone'.  Following his conversion to Christianity he was Petra's lead singer from 1986 until their retirement in 2005.  Their songs such as 'He Came, He Saw, He Conquered', 'Hit You Where You Live', 'I am on the Rock', and 'Jekyll and Hyde' have had a profound effect on my spiritual walk over the years.  Schlitt has now released four solo albums: SHAKE (1995), UNFIT FOR SWINE (1996), THE GRAFTING (2008), and THE GREATER CAUSE (2012).  THE GREATER CAUSE (4K Records) is a largely fan funded project that sees Schlitt return to his rock roots.  It was produced by his son-in-law Dan Needham, who has writing credits on all eleven tracks.  Dan has worked with the likes of Michael W. Smith, Chris Tomlin, and Peter Cetera.  Of this album that has a very cool cover, Schlitt says: "The message is-and always has been-to encourage the listener to grasp the reality that we are on the winning team.  The enemy is escalating his tactics, using every possible means he can to keep people away from the truth-the truth that they are made in the image of God and are designed for a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ." 

Ephesians 6:19-20 says: "Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains.  Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should."  The CD begins with a full on rock number 'Live it Loud' written by Chris Rodriguez, Dan Needham, Scott Faircloff and John Schlitt.  Rodriguez, who has played guitar for Michael W. Smith, plays guitars on this track that has guest rap vocals by Needham.  The chorus urges us to make a positive difference for Christ in the world: "Watch the world, spinning round/What's your legacy?/Live it loud/Like a fire, deep inside/That won't be contained/Live it loud (2X)."  'Take Me Home' is a tasty rocker with an intro guitar solo by industry vet Jerry McPherson.  It draws on the very familiar Parable of the Prodigal Son for lyrical inspiration:  "There's a time when you realize/There must be something better than this hollow life/Sometimes the grass it isn't greener on the other side.../Take me home-I've been away so long/Take me home-I can see I was wrong."  'Love Won't Leave Me Alone' was written by Ed Cash and Dan Needham.  Cash has worked with the likes of Sara Groves and Steven Curtis Chapman.  The song has Peter King on synth and mellotron.  It reminds me of classic rock by Def Leppard and contains these words of a man on a spiritual journey: "I follow, You lead/To the mountain from the valley/Don't leave me where I am/Got my eyes on the Promised Land/Wherever I go, whatever I see/I need You there surrounding me/From the cradle to the grave."

2 Chronicles 7:14 reads: "If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and will turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."  'One of these Days' is a modern rock gem that sounds like what Petra might have sounded like if they were still putting out new music.  The song finds Tony Lucido on bass and asks some pertinent questions: "When will truth be the truth again?/When will  hope not fade away?/When will change ever come to an end?/I wonder if today/Is one of these days?.../How long 'til we stand and fight?/'Til the hunger grows and the pain is right?"  'Faith and Freedom' is one of two back to back songs penned by Ian Eskelin and Dan Needham.  Eskelin fronts the band All Star United.  He has also worked with the likes of Francesca Battistelli and Point of Grace.  'Faith and Freedom' is contagious and patriotic like Miley Cyrus' 'Wake up America'.  It begins with these lyrics: "I'm an American/Red, White, and Blue/And I'm a citizen/Of this world and of heaven/Some things were meant to be together."  The song also encourages Christians not to be passive about their faith: "We gotta rise up/We gotta stay strong/To save our way of life."  Hebrews 13:6 says: "So we say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.  What can man do to me?'"  'End of Fear' is a quieter song with Needham on keys, percussion, drums and backing vocals.  It is a song that declares that the Lord is aware of everything that goes on on on our planet and is ultimately in control: "When I turn on my TV/The whole world's falling apart/I'm reading today's headlines/It's like taking a walk in the dark.../But now I walk in freedom/Trusting who You are/You make the biggest of the biggest problems/Suddenly seem small."

Next up are the first two radio singles.  'Where I Wanna Be' is a beautiful ballad that stands out, with Joeie Canaday on bass.  The chorus conveys a hope for reconciliation in relationships: "If love could set the world on fire/What would it burn away?/What would remain?/Would it build a bridge between us?/If love would rain for forty days/Would it wash away the pain/Of bitter days and all the lies that came between us?/And conquer all the fears in me?/That's where I wanna be."  2 Corinthians 4:4 reads: "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God."  'Hope that Saves the World' written by Needham and Schliltt, is a pounding rock number with Jerry McPherson on guitars.  The song points to God as the only one who can cure us of our spiritual blindness: "We're incomplete/Blinded with our eyes wide open/Why can't we see/You're the hope/That we need?/You lit the stars/You spun the earth/You gave us life/So tell me why can't we see?/You're the hope that saves the world.../We're incomplete/Always searching for the greater cause."  'Run' is a simmering rock number with Tim Acres on the B3.  This track urges us to make a concious decision to leave our troubled past behind and pursue God and the things of God: "All the pain/That you've known/No more shame/Let it go/Run, you can run/To the light at the end of the way/Run, will you run/Run from the things that remind you/Things that will bind you?/You've got to leave it behind."

John married his wife Dorla on August 28, 1971.  They have four children.  'The Gift (Dorla's Song)' is a soft, romantic ballad with Matt Butler on cello: "I could thank You for so many things/The life I've lived, the things I've seen/But if I had to choose I'd throw it all away/'Cause the greatest gift/You've given me/Is standing right in front of me/She's the answer to every prayer/I've ever prayed.../She is such a gift, Lord, thank You for the gift."  This is one of the better love songs I've heard in a while.  1 Corinthians 1:18 says: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."  The album ends with the inspirational 'The Cross Remains' which has been used by Jay Sekulow's American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).  These words from the song are a good summary of the message of John's musical ministry throughout the years: "Through the smoke/Through the tears/Through so many years/The cross remains/When the darkness turns to light/When the flames begin to die/The cross remains, the cross remains/Though there's tension in the air/Sometimes more than we can bear/Through it all the cross remains."

John shares these words from his heart: "In these days filled with uncertainty and insecurity-both economically and politically-we as Christians need to remind each other who Christ is and who we are in Him.  We need to use common sense in this world and awaken to the fact that Jesus is Lord, no matter what those around us may say or do.  This is my goal with THE GREATER CAUSE."  It is encouraging to see John Schlitt still going strong after all this time.  In an industry where there are so many new artists appearing on the scene, Schlitt is a shining example of relevant ministry and fine quality entertainment.  THE GREATER CAUSE will please fans of Petra's albums WAKE-UP CALL (1993) and JEKYLL AND HYDE (2003).  Schlitt's voice is stronger than ever.  This is truly how Christian rock music should sound!  I'm rating THE GREATER CAUSE 93% and recommending it to one and all.  For more info visit Check him out on itunes as well!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Kutless has been pumping out quality Christian rock for over ten years now, including two worship albums, 2005's STRONG TOWER, and 2009's IT IS WELL.  Kutless is back with their seventh studio album BELIEVER (2012, BEC Recordings).  For this album group members are Jon Micah Sumrall (vocals), James Mead (guitar), Nick De Partee (guitar), Dave Luetkenhoelter (bass), and Jeff Gilbert (drums).  In the liner notes Jon Micah makes it clear he is grateful to still be making music.  He quotes James 1:17 which reads: "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning."

The record begins with a rousing rock number 'If It Ends Today' which anticipates Christ's Second Coming: "Seems like the end is coming/Seems like the signs are lining up/As far as I can see/We're closer now than ever/This pain won't last forever/Love, Love is on His way."  'Carry On' extols the Lord's virtues: "There is love for the lonely/That only comes from You/There is peace and forgiveness/That I have found in You/Where else can I go?/You are the Way/You are the Light/You are the voice calling me through the night."  'All Yours' features strings by Brian Gocher and musically sounds ready for mainstream rock radio.  It is a song of grateful surrender: "With blood You bought my broken heart/So here I am, take everything/It's all Yours anyway/You turned my heart around, I came running back to You/Oh what joy I found surrounded by the Truth/That You love me and now I can see/It's all Yours anyway."

'Even If' is a ballad penned by Scott Krippayne and Tony Wood.  It speaks of trusting God even in those times where life doesn't go as we wish: "Sometimes all we have to hold on to/Is what we know is true of who You are/So when the heartache hits like a hurricane/That could never change who You are/And we trust in who You are/Even if the healing doesn't come/And life falls apart/And dreams are still undone/You are God, You are good/Forever faithful One."  'Hero' is much more mellow than the Skillet song of the same name.  The words to it tell us that the harvest of souls is waiting to be gathered in: "You don't have to look that hard to see/You don't have to reach that far to find someone in need/There is a desperation deep in this generation/Looking for something new, a love they can believe."  'Identity' written by Nick De Partee and Jason Walker, is about opening up to God and His purposes for us: "God I need You to be my identity/It's always easier to hide behind that/Camouflage that keeps our hearts so guarded/But there's no shame when we surrender everything to You/Everything to You."

'Need' is a guitar driven rock number.  It communicates how we oft feel when in a spiritual wilderness or 'dry season'.  Witness these words: "You tore the veil so my eyes could see/Your open arms right in front of me/Lord I feel blind, make this darkness flee/You know exactly what I need/Help me God I do believe/But I feel lost and it's killing me/I need You right now/God please answer me."  'Come Back Home' will appeal to those who appreciate the story found in Luke 15:11-32, that of the Prodigal Son.  Here are some of the words to this song written by Sam Mizell and Jeff Pardo: "I wanna see that face that I've been missing so much/I want to wrap My arms around your neck/I want to welcome you back to the place where you belong/I want to show you love has never left.../I've paid the price so have no fear/There's nothing but mercy here, yeah.../Mercy is waiting/Oh, when you come back home."  'This is Love' is a great modern rock song based on Luke 22:39-46 which recounts the night Jesus was in the garden of Gethsemane: "Alone in a garden weeping/Begging His Father pleading/Take this cup from me/But if it's Your will Father let it be/All of the others sleeping/Sweat on His brow was bleeding/He could have run away but He chose to stay/This is Love, this is real." 

'Gravity' paints a picture of the Lord drawing us closer to Himself: "No matter where I go Your mercy follows/And I come running back to You/Your gravity keeps pulling me to You/I must have been destined for You.../You knew this human heart would be lost/So You planned a ransom and You paid the cost."  'I'm With You' has Grant Diggles responsible for strings and Jeff Gilbert on acoustic guitar.  This song will speak to the prodigals among us: "All this time You've been walking here beside me/Waiting for the day I'd call Your Name/So here am I walking through the darkest valley/Shine down Your light so I can see/You know I'm weary/I know You're calling out to me/Fall in My arms and I will carry you, carry you/I know you and I we can make it through, make it through.../All who need rest, all who are lonely/Come to Me now and just let it go."  The title track 'Believer' was written by Jon Micah and Scott Krippayne.  It is on the softer side, but beautiful.  It offers these wonderful words of hope: "No matter what you've done/How far you've run/There is hope for you/For every broken heart/He'll meet you where you are/And He will rescue you/Let Him rescue you."  One of the co-writers of the closing track 'Carry Me to the Cross' is Mark Stuart of Audio Adrenaline fame.  It ultimately points us to a place of refuge at Jesus' feet: "All these burdens on my shoulder/I'm not alone (2X)/You pull me from this place/Hallelujah! You carry me every day/You carry me all the way/And Hallelujah! You carry me to the/You carry me to the cross."

BELIEVER runs a generous 46 minutes and 27 seconds in length.  It is a project that does a good job of both encouraging Christians and reaching out in love to non-Christians.  On it the band shows a great deal of maturity.  I'm rating BELIEVER 87% and recommending it to fans of rock acts such as Daughtry, Creed, and Nickelback.  For more info visit and