Thursday, January 30, 2014

MUCH AFRAID


Jars of Clay take their name from 2 Corinthians 4:7 which reads: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us”.  The group was formed at Greenville College in Greenville, Illinois in the early 1990’s.  They released their self-titled debut album in 1995.  The song ‘Flood’ hit No 37 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No 12 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart.  Jars of Clay toured with the likes of PFR, Matchbox Twenty, and Sting.  The group put out a Christmas EP at the end of ’95 and a version of it was re-released in ’97.  MUCH AFRAID also came out in 1997 (Essential/Silvertone).  It was produced by Stephen Lipson (Annie Lennox, Cher) and won a Grammy for Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel album.  On this record, Jars of Clay is: Dan Haseltine (vocals/percussion), Matthew Odmark (guitar/mandolin/vocals), Charlie Lowell (keyboards/piano/organ/vocals), and Stephen Mason (guitar/bass/vocals).  Greg Wells plays a lot of drums and bass on this record.  He would go on to produce for OneRepublic and Katy Perry.

‘Overjoyed’ is a light rock song that is a conversation with one’s Creator: “You name me/Who am I/That I should company with something so divine?/Mercy waits/Overjoyed/Prospects of finding freeing/Freeing me/Love is the thing this time I’m sure/And I couldn’t need You more now/The way that You saw things were so pure/Overjoyed”.  ‘Fade to Grey’ is a commercial sounding pop song that includes the Nashville Strings arranged by Ron Huff.  These lyrics make it clear that God desires spiritual intimacy with us: “And then I see You there/With Your arms open wide and You try to embrace me/These lonely tears I cry/They keep me in chains and I wish they’d release me/Cold is the night but/Colder still is the heart made of stone turned from clay/And if You follow me/You’ll see all the black, all the white, fade to grey”.

‘Tea and Sympathy’ uses the London Strings and is about a relationship on the rocks: “Fare thee well/Trade in all our words for tea and sympathy/Wonder why we tried, for things could never be/Play our heart’s lament like an unrehearsed symphony/Not intend/To leave this castle full of empty rooms/Our love the captive in the tower never rescued/And all the victory songs/Seemed to be playing out of tune”.  The lead single from the record ‘Crazy Times’ is another commercial sounding song and includes a nice electric guitar solo.  It is about one who is struggling greatly: “You try to climb a broken ladder/Grip the missing rungs/And fall down, down, down, down/Seems some time ago you said this wouldn’t last/And now you sit here crying, yeah/Beside your bed/You feel left for dead/You kneel in the dark/It takes more than your saline eyes/To make things right”.

The next track ‘Frail’ was originally an instrumental on their 1994 demo recording.  Here it is a tranquil number, almost seven minutes long. It uses English horn and strings.  Now it contains these reflective lyrics: “If I was not so weak/If I was not so cold/If I was not so scared of being broken/Growing old/I would be/I would be/Frail”.  These lyrics from ‘Five Candles (You Were There)’ talk about depending on another.  No man is an island: “I close my eyes and make a wish/Turn out the lights and take a breath/Pray that when the wick is burned/You would say that it’s all about love/You were there when I needed you/You were there when the skies broke wide, wide open/You were there when I needed you/You were there when the skies broke wide, wide open”.

‘Weighed Down’ expresses a desire for God to shine through our weakness and frailties: “Light of the world/Are You still here?/And are we illuminating/When love becomes a delicate display/So weak, dissolved by anything?/Love lies here waiting all alone/Can a king be a king/Weighed down?”  ‘Portrait of an Apology’ is kind of a boring song.  It has lyrics I need someone to please translate for me: “Try to explain/The way that the frame/Doesn’t quite fit the image/Or surround the edge/It stands on display/What do you see?/Behold all the new grey/What’s become of the old me?/’Cause I remember it much redder/And I remember it much brighter”.

‘Truce’ was the album’s fifth and last radio single and it was the fifth to hit No 1 on Christian radio.  Musically it is upbeat adult pop, but again it has lyrics that are hard to interpret: “I stand here wondering/And I’m waiting/My ear is twisted in all the thoughts/A glimpse of truce just because/It’s always almost never close/I close my eyes, hide the distance/Waiting around for some kind of peace/Hoping you’ll find me in my need”.

The title track ‘Much Afraid’ is a slow, reverent one.  It speaks of Christ’s faithfulness to us in every circumstance we find ourselves in: “Empty again/Sunken down so far/So scared to fall/Might not get up again/So I lay at Your feet/All my brokenness/I carry all my burdens to You/All of these things/Held up in vain/No reason or rhyme/Just the scars that remain/Of all of these things/I’m so much afraid/Scared out of my mind/By the demons I’ve made/Sweet Jesus, You never ever let me go/Oh, sweet Jesus, You never ever let me go”.  ‘Hymn’ is an easy listening song, in the vein of James Taylor, from a humble heart: “Oh gaze of love so melt my pride/That I may in Your house but kneel/And in my brokenness to cry/Spring worship unto Thee/Sweet Jesus carry me away/From cold of night and dust of day/In ragged hour or salt worn eye/Be my desire, my well spring lye”.

I would say MUCH AFRAID is more geared towards adults who value art and creativity than youth looking for a good time.  There is something to be said for a group including personal lyrics on their CD.  The only problem at times on this album is that the lyrics can be so vague they are confusing!  I am sure they mean something to the group though.  I’m rating this album 86%.  For more info visit: www.jarsofclay.com.

 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

MTV UNPLUGGED


Robert Allen Zimmerman, better known as Bob Dylan, was born on May 24, 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota.  One of his musical heroes is Woody Guthrie.  Starting in 1961 Dylan played at different clubs in Greenwich Village.  Johnny Cash was an early fan of Dylan’s.  Dylan’s first album which was self-titled came out it 1962 and included the songs ‘Man of Constant Sorrow’ and ‘Gospel Plow’.  On November 17th and 18th of 1994 Dylan recorded a TV special and live album at Sony Music Studios in New York.  The album, released in April of 1995, was called MTV Unplugged.  It was his best selling album in years.  It hit No 23 in the U.S., went gold, and hit No 10 in the U.K.  Backing Dylan skillfully were: Tony Garnier (bass), John Jackson (guitar), Bucky Baxter (pedal steel, dobro), Winston Watson (drums), and Brendan O’Brien (Hammond organ).

Starting things off is ‘Tombstone Blues’.  Dylan’s singing voice might be said to be moaning by non­-fans.  This opener is upbeat blues musically.  It includes these strange lyrics only Bob Dylan could come up with: “Well, John the Baptist after torturing a thief/Looks up at his hero the Commander-in-Chief/Saying, ‘Tell me Great Hero, but please make it brief/Is there a hole for me to get sick in?’/The Commander-in-Chief answers him while chasing a fly/Saying, ‘Death to all who would whimper and cry’/And dropping a bar bell he points to the sky/Saying ‘The sun’s not yellow, it’s chicken’”.  1989’s ‘Shooting Star’ is an old country ballad in style.  It is one of my favourite Bob Dylan songs.  It is addressed to one’s former romantic partner: “Seen a shooting star tonight/And I thought of you/You were trying to break into another world/A world I never knew/I always kind of wondered/If you ever made it through/Seen a shooting star tonight/And I thought of you/Seen a shooting star tonight/And I thought of me/If I was still the same/If I ever became what you wanted me to be/Did I miss the mark or/Over-step the line/That only you could see?/Seen a shooting star tonight and I thought of me”.

Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Vedder are among those who have covered the next song ‘All Along the Watchtower’.  Here Dylan’s vocals are nasally on one of the most recognizable rock songs ever.  Here are some of the lyrics: “’There must be some way out of here’/Said the joker to the thief/’There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief/Businessmen, they drink my wine/Plowmen dig my earth/None of them along the line know what any of it is worth’”.  1963’s folk classic ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’’ is sung with passion.  It encourages the older generation to have an open mind and heart towards the younger: “Come mothers and fathers throughout the land/And don’t criticize what you can’t understand/Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command/Your old road is rapidly agin’/Please get out of the new one/If you can’t lend your hand/For the times they are a-changin’/The line it is drawn, the curse it is cast/The slow one now will later be fast/The order is rapidly fadin’/And the first one now will later be last/For the times they are a-changin’”.

‘John Brown’ is a story song about a young man returning home from the battlefield: “Oh, his face was all shot up and his hand was blown off/And he wore a metal brace around his waist/He whispered kind of slow, in a voice she did not know/While she couldn’t ever recognize his face!.../He tried his best to talk but his mouth could hardly move/And the mother had to turn her face away.../’The thing that scared me most was when my enemy came close/And I saw that his face looked  just like mine’”.  What powerful words!  ‘Rainy Day Women #12 and 35’ could have a couple of meanings.  It could be addressed to Dylan’s critics who are always looking for something bad.  Or it could be about getting high!  This version here has a bouncy pop carnival like feel to it.  Dylan’s vocals sound like he is on a trip of some kind!  Harmonica is used on this track.  Here are some of the words: “Well, they’ll stone you and say that it’s the end/Then they’ll stone you and then they’ll come back again/They’ll stone you when you’re riding in your car/They’ll stone you/When you’re playing your guitar/Yes, but I would not feel so all alone/Everybody must get stoned”.

‘Desolation Row’ runs over eight minutes long.  It is delivered quietly vocally and musically.  It is one of Dylan’s songs known for the many characters he presents: “Now the moon is almost hidden/The stars are beginning to hide/The fortunetelling lady/Has even taken all her things inside/All except for Cain and Abel/And the hunchback of Notre Dame/Everybody is making love/Or else expecting rain/And the Good Samaritan, he’s dressing/He’s getting ready for the show/He’s going to the carnival tonight/On Desolation Row”.  1989’s ‘Dignity’ has a catchy beat for dancing.  It finds Dylan in elusive pursuit of, well, dignity: “Somebody got murdered on New Year’s Eve/Somebody said dignity was the first to leave/I went into the city, went into the town/Went into the land of the midnight sun/Searchin’ high, searchin’ low/Searchin’ everywhere I know/Askin’ the cops wherever I go/Have you seen dignity?.../Someone showed me a picture and I just laughed/Dignity never been photographed.../So many roads, so much at stake/So many dead ends, I’m on the edge of the lake/Sometimes I wonder what it’s gonna take/To find dignity”.

Dylan’s classic ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ has been performed by Guns ‘N’ Roses and Whitecross among others.  It is a moving anti-war ballad: “Mama, take this badge off of me/I can’t use it anymore.../Mama, put my guns in the ground/I can’t shoot them anymore/That long, black cloud is comin’ down/I feel like I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door”.  ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ dates back to 1965.  This version is over eight minutes long.  It is an emotion filled rock classic in a class all its own.  It warns strongly against pride: “Once upon a time you dressed so fine/You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you?/People’d call, say ‘Beware doll, you’re bound to fall’/You thought they were all kiddin’ you/You used to laugh about/Everybody that was hangin’ out/Now you don’t talk so loud/Now you don’t seem so proud/About having to be scrounging for your next meal/How does it feel/How does it feel/To be without a home/Like a complete unknown/Like a rolling stone?”

The last song performed is ‘With God on Our Side’.  It is a folk protest song that questions using religion as justification for war: “I’ve learned to hate Russians/All through my whole life/If another war starts/It’s them we must fight/To hate them and fear them/To run and to hide/And accept it all bravely/With God on my side/But now we got weapons of the chemical dust/If fire them we’re forced to/Then fire them we must/One push of the button/And a shot the world wide/And you never ask questions/When God’s on your side.../If God’s on our side/He’ll stop the next war”.

Bob Dylan is a legend and treasure just like Johnny Cash, Larry Norman, The Beatles, and The Beach Boys.  The songs on MTV UNPLUGGED have meat, substance, and deep meaning to and behind them.  These are not songs meant to please people, but rather to convey Bob Dylan’s worldview and viewpoints on serious issues and life situations.  I’m rating this one 95%.  For more info visit: www.bobdylan.com and www.columbiarecords.com.

 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

THE FLAME IN ALL OF US


Thousand Foot Krutch was founded in Peterborough, Ontario in 1997.  Their first indie release SET IT OFF came out in 2000 and included the fan favourite ‘Puppet’.  They toured with Finger Eleven, The Tea Party, and others.  Krutch signed with Tooth and Nail Records in 2003 and released PHENOMENON which included another crowd favourite ‘Rawkfist’.  In September of 2007 they put out their fourth studio album THE FLAME IN ALL OF US (Tooth&Nail).  It was produced and mixed by Ken Andrews who has worked with Beck, Chris Cornell, Pete Yorn, and others.  The album was nominated for Hard Music Album of the Year at 2008’s Covenant Awards and for Contemporary Christian/Gospel Album of the Year at the Junos.  On this release group leader and vocalist Trevor McNevan is joined by Joel Bruyere on bass and Steve Augustine on drums.  Playing guitars is Phil X whose credits include Tommy Lee, Alice Cooper, and Avril Lavigne.

The title track is a heavy electric guitar driven rock song.  It points out that the band’s generation has great potential: “We are the youth of yesterday/We’ve brought You pain and sorrow/That’s what they say/But they paved the way/We are the new tomorrow/It’s the strength in you and me/That surrounds everything/The way You look out for me/The way You burn/It’s the flame in all of us/The same that makes us feel this flame in all of us”.  Trevor’s voice has a recognizable edge to it on ‘Falls Apart’.  This song praises God for His goodness: “Everything I have ever been made of/Hates who I am/I’m so glad You waited/Can’t get my mind off/How You could love me/I’m so behind, You’re so far above me/And You’ll always be the wind under my wings/Above me/You’ll always be the wind under my wings/Above me”.

‘New Drug’ is a manly rocker.  It could be interpreted a couple of ways.  It could be referring to the pull of the flesh (the old man) in one’s life, or it could be expressing a craving for God: “I want it, I need it, I taste it, I breathe it/It fuels my aggression and fuels my questions/I cannot conceal it/It drives me/I feel it/It fills me/I need it/Now I believe it/I, I want it/I, I need it/I, I breathe it/You are the new drug/I, I want you, I, I need you/I believe you, you are the new drug”.  ‘What Do We Know?’ is a softer, melodic song.  It makes good use of a children’s choir from Fellowship Bible Church in Brentwood, TN.  It speaks of being a positive force in today’s society: “Maybe if we pulled together/We could change a million lives for the better/And maybe if we prayed a little more/We would stop living in fear from the storm.../Every part is you, every part is me/Raise your hands and sing/Tell them we can be/Show them who you are/Show them you can see/Raise your hands and sing/Tell them we are free”.

‘Favorite Disease’ is a great song.  In the liner notes Trevor talks of how music can be a great tool, but one can become obsessed with it.  Here are some of the lyrics: “Silent warnings tell me/That I’ve let things come undone/Show me, teach me the way to Heaven/Cause no other way can.../Sometimes I feel like a monster/And times I feel like a saint/I’m on my knees/You’re my favourite disease.../And I love the way you kill me/Love the way you heal me”.  ‘My Home’ is a light rock love song from a traveling musician to his spouse: “Home is the voice that I hear every night on the phone/And I’ve done a few things I wasn’t proud of/Might have said a few things that hurt you/But you’re still the only one/Who fills me up/And every night spent alone was worth it/You are my home/You are my everything/When I feel so all alone/You are my home/You are my shelter/When all my hope is gone”.

‘My Own Enemy’ heads back into hard rock territory musically.  This song is about a person trying to avoid self-destruction: “This anger changes me/It effects the way I see/Effects every part of me/And makes you my enemy/But when it falls apart/It’s like a brand new start/And I can’t remember why/I ripped everything apart/I’m still my own worst enemy/The world around me/All can see what they want to see/I need some help/Because I’m still my worst enemy/No matter where I am/I’ll still get the best of me/I’m my own enemy”.  ‘Learn to Breathe’ uses strings and seems directed straight at the group’s critics: ”You think you have it all figured out/You think you’re onto something/I see you standing there/Acting like you have no idea what I’m talking about/You don’t like the way I dress/You don’t like the way I talk/That’s fine, cause nobody asked you/And next time you want to point the finger/I suggest you look in the mirror”.

‘Inhuman’ includes vocals by Charlotte Martin.  This headbanger includes a chorus of thanks to God: “I’m alive because You touched me/Take away the things that crush me/No one else can save me like You do/You’re inhuman/I’m alive because You gave me/Time enough to shake this hate and take it all away/Just like you do/You’re inhuman”.  ‘Broken Wing’ sounds like it could be an Our Lady Peace song.  It shows great concern for a friend: “Every time you walk away wish you’d stay/Instead of pushin’ further away/Every time I hear you say/I just need one/To take this pain away/You’re a broken wing, not a broken thing/You can heal in time/If you try/It’ll be okay/You can walk away, sweet Julia”.

Musically ‘The Safest Place’ is one of the heaviest songs on the album.  It is the song of one seeking freedom from a vice: “And all I feel is friction/I don’t want it/I hate this addiction/I won’t be the safest place to hide/Take this cup from me/Your sick and twisted lies/And I won’t be your safest place to hide/Lord, help me break these chains/I need to see the light”.  Track 12 on the CD actually contains two songs.  The first is ‘Wish You Well’, a pretty ballad.  It contains some of my favourite lyrics on the album: “Sometimes faith feels like doubt/And sometimes I wonder if we’ll ever get out/Sometimes life hurts just like now/But ya gotta know/It’s all gonna come back around/I wish you well, I wish you well/On this trip to find yourself/I wish you well/Wish I could help/But I can’t help you find yourself”.  ‘The Last Song’ is pretty and reflects on the early days of the band.

THE FLAME IN ALL OF US may not have a lot of blatantly Christian lyrics on it, but that’s okay.  What we seem to have here is a deeply personal collection of songs from Trevor McNevan.  The lyrics provoke thought and feeling.  Trevor can sing equally well both rock music and quieter ballads.  I’m rating this one 88% and recommending it to fans of Skillet.  For more info visit: www.thousandfootkrutch.com.

 

 

Saturday, January 25, 2014

THE CHRISTMAS PROJECT


John William Schlitt was born on February 3, 1950 in Lincoln, Illinois.  He is known for his time as vocalist for the mainstream rock group Head East and then as lead vocalist for Christian rock group Petra.  His first solo album SHAKE came out in 1995.  THE CHRISTMAS PROJECT is his fifth solo CD.  It was released in 2013 on 4K Records.  The album is produced by John’s son-in-law Dan Needham who is also responsible for drums and percussion on the album.  He has worked with the likes of Michael McDonald, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, and Kenny Loggins.  Mark Hill plays bass, Jerry McPherson, Tom Bukovac, and George Cocchini play guitars, and Jason Webb and Jeff Roach are on keys.  Schlitt reflects: “The manger was only the beginning, because looming ahead was the cross.  Christ was born to die.  We don’t like to think about that at Christmastime, but His whole purpose in coming into this world was to bear our sins on the cross.  But it didn’t end there.  Our Lord conquered death and the cross by rising on the third day.  Without the resurrection, the cross means nothing, just as the manger means nothing without the cross”.

The album opens with ‘Hallelujah Chorus (Handel’s Messiah)’ which was composed in 1741.  Here Schlitt delivers a tremendous rock version with blistering electric guitar work and drums.  His voice has never sounded better!  The words celebrate Christ: “And He shall reign forever and ever/King of Kings/Forever and ever/Hallelujah, Hallelujah/And Lord of Lords/Forever and ever/Hallelujah, Hallelujah”.  ‘Do You Hear What I Hear?’ begins with the sound of sheep bleating.  This is followed by a Scripture reading by John’s grandson Logan that recalls when an angel of the Lord told the shepherds that a Savior, a Messiah, the Lord, had been born.  The song here is given the rock treatment with a funkified groove.  It tells the story of the wisemen: “The star is showing where to go/Let us bring silver and gold/He has won this very night/Bringing us a blessed light/Goodness and light/The Child, the Child, sleeping in the night/He will bring us goodness and light (2X)”.

Next up is ‘Little Drummer Boy’.  The Trapp Family Singers recorded it in 1955.  In 1958 a Harry Simeone Chorale recording of it hit No 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.  Bing Crosby covered it in 1962.  Schlitt’s version is a captivating rock ballad.  It is a song of humility: “Little baby, pa-rum-pa-pum-pum/I am a poor boy too, pa-rum-pa-pum-pum/I have no gift to bring, pa-rum-pa-pum-pum/That’s fit to give the King, pa-rum-pa-pum-pum/Shall I play for you, pa-rum-pa-pum-pum/On my drum? (2X)”  This is followed by a reverent, traditional version of ‘O Holy Night’.  John Elefante of Kansas fame is on backing vocals.  It speaks of the wonderful difference Christ makes on this earth and glorifies Him for it: “Truly He taught us to love one another/His law is love and His gospel is peace/Chains He shall break for the slave is our brother/And in His Name all oppression shall cease/Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we/With all our hearts we praise His holy Name/Christ is the Lord/Him ever, ever praise we/His power and glory evermore proclaim”.

‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ is a happy sounding rocker that is all about the Good News: “God rest ye merry gentlemen/Let nothing you dismay/Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day/To save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray/O tidings of comfort and joy/From God our Heavenly Father, a blessed angel came/And unto certain shepherds brought tidings of the same/How that in Bethlehem was born/The Son of God by Name/O tidings of comfort and joy”.  ‘Good Christian Men Rejoice’ is credited to J.M. Neal (1853).  Schlitt’s take on it uses sleigh bells and is decidedly bouncy pop in Newsboys territory.  It is a jubilant call to revel in Christ: “Good Christian men rejoice/With heart and soul and voice/Now ye hear of endless bliss/Jesus Christ was born for this/He has opened heaven’s door and man is blessed forevermore/Christ was born for this (3X)/News, news, Jesus Christ was born today/Joy, joy, Jesus Christ was born to save.../Now ye need not fear the grave/Jesus Christ was born to save”.

‘That Spirit of Christmas’ is a quiet, crooner like, adult contemporary number in the vein of some of Rod Stewart’s later material.  Schlitt’s vocals are awesome on this sentimental song: “I was sittin’ by the fireside/Taking a walk through the snow/Listening to a children’s choir/Singing songs about Jesus/The blessed way that He came to us/Why can’t it remain all through the years/Each day the same?/That’s what I wanna hear/It’s truly amazin’/That spirit of Christmas”.  ‘We Three Kings’ was written by John Henry Hopkins in 1857.  He was the rector at Christ Episcopal Church in Williamsport, PA.  He wrote the song for a Christmas pageant in New York City.  Schlitt’s cover is slow and fairly traditional.  The song makes it clear that Christ is true Royalty and should be treated as such: “Born a King on Bethlehem’s plain/Gold I bring to crown Him again/King forever, ceasing never/Over us all to reign.../Frankincense to offer have I/Incense owns a deity nigh/Prayer and praising/All men raising/Worship Him God on high.../Glorious now behold Him arise/King and God and sacrifice/Alleluia, Alleluia/Sounds to the earth and sky (2X)”.

‘What Christmas Needs to Be’ is the only original track on the album.  It was penned by Schlitt, Dan Needham, and George Cocchini.  Musically it is an upbeat adult contemporary song.  It is pretty decent and reflects on Christ’s greatness and power: “It’s Christmas now/The Gift of Heaven given/Love can be found/In every heart that hears it/A Baby crowned/The hope of our salvation/He is what Christmas needs to be.../With just one life all things were changed/A Child is born to light the way”.  The highlight of this song is really the spot on backing vocals by Scott Faircloff.  Last up is a beautiful rendition of ‘What Child Is This?’ which is essentially a song of praise: “What child is this who laid to rest on Mary’s lap lay sleeping/Whom angels greet with anthems sweet/While shepherds watch are keeping?/This, this, is Christ the King whom shepherds guard and angels sing/Haste, haste to bring Him laud/The babe, the son of Mary”.

Christmas albums come a dime a dozen these days.  THE CHRISTMAS PROJECT has far more value than that!  At 63 years of age, John Schlitt’s voice sounds seasoned, mature, and strong.  The musical arrangements here are contemporary and don’t sound dated.  As is almost always the case when it comes to John Schlitt, these songs point directly to Jesus Christ as our Hope and Salvation.  My only beef is that half of the album rocks and the other is more adult contemporary.  I would have liked an all out rocker with a ballad or two thrown in.  That being said, this really is a terrific holiday project.  I’m rating it 87%.  For more info visit: www.johnwschlitt.com, www.schlittshop.com, and www.thepetrazone.net.

 

 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

THE BEACH BOYS


The Beach Boys released their first album SURFIN’ SAFARI in 1962.  Their 25th album THE BEACH BOYS was recorded in London and Los Angeles.  It came out on Caribou Records on June 10, 1985.  It was produced by Steve Levine who had produced for Culture Club.  The album reached No 52 in the States.  On it, the Beach Boys are: Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, and Bruce Johnston.  The album is dedicated to longtime drummer Dennis Wilson, who drowned while drinking in December 1983.

The album begins with ‘Getcha Back’ penned by Mike Love and Terry Melcher.  It has a sunny pop feel musically and finds Steve Grainger on baritone sax.  It was a Top 30 hit and finds a guy strongly missing a past love interest: “I’m gettin’ tired layin’ around here at night/Thinkin’ bout some other guy holdin’ you tight/He may have money and a brand new car/May even treat you like a movie star/Ain’t no matter what he ever do for you/He can never love you like I can do/So if I leave her and you leave him/Can we ever get it back again?/Getcha back/Getcha back baby”.  ‘It’s Gettin’ Late’ is a light pop song written by Carl Wilson, Myrna Smith Schilling, and Robert White Johnson.  It is about a guy burning with passion or lust: “You got me in a situation/My love is risin’ high/Don’t let any more love pass us by/Girl, we can make it up to paradise/Just give it a try/So hurry now and girl make up your mind/It’s gettin’ late/Don’t know how much more I can stand/Girl, I need your lovin’/I’m so tired of waitin’/Come on there’s no one else around/Oo-sweet girl, it’s gettin’ late/So please don’t hesitate/Been waitin’ to get your defenses down”.

‘Crack at Your Love’ is a breezy pop song that begins with these words that could come from a teenage boy: “I’ve been keepin’ my eyes on you/I finally found the nerve to talk to you/There’s something that you ought to know/Don’t you know that I love you so?/Our life together could be eternal bliss/If we could just get close enough to kiss/And you know, I’d like to get a crack at your love/Crack at your love (2X)”.  ‘Maybe I Don’t Know’ is a light rock song.  Gary Moore is great on rhythm and lead guitars.  The song begins with these words of self-reflection: “You got me calling at all hours of the night/I don’t think it’s right/But still I do it/You got me thinking your existence is my life/It’s time to see the light/I think I’ll leave it”.

‘She Believes in Love Again’ is a nice ballad written by Bruce Johnston.  It uses violin, viola, cello, and trombone.  It includes these words of a man determined to do the hard work to make a relationship work: “I woke up, I spoke up/And let her know the way I feel/Changes I could make/Wouldn’t have to take a lifetime/She wants me, she needs me/She always let me know before/And now it’s up to me/To give her all she needs the right way/She believes in love again/She believes in me/Now we’ve gone far beyond/The way we used to be”.  ‘California Calling’ was penned by Alan Jardine and Brian Wilson.  Ringo Starr plays drums and timpani!  This one has a welcome old time rock and roll feel to it.  It finds the band fondly reminiscing about days long past: “In the fifties it was ‘Hey-Daddy-O’/Then came the surfers and the Hodads you know/We had our woodies and our custom cars/And when we drove around we knew we were bad/My baby listens to my car radio/And when we’re cruisin’ lets the whole world know/And when our favourite surfin’ song comes on/We always let ‘em know it’s ‘Totally Rad!’”

‘Passing Friend’ was composed by Culture Club members George O’Dowd (Boy George) and Roy Hay.  It is certainly not the happiest song on the album: “Well, there’s nothing worse than a passing friend/Who will die on you till the bitter end/There’s nothing worse than a burning heart/Or a past that tears the world apart.../Why do you love someone/Who wants to break your heart?/Why do you need someone/Who wants to tear your world apart?”  The next song ‘I’m So Lonely’ is credited to Brian Wilson and Eugene E. Landy.  Later on, all of Landy’s credits on the album would be erased because the therapist exploited Brian.  This track is mellow and is influenced by doo-wop.  Thousands of guys worldwide will be able to relate to these lyrics of longing: “I’ve wished since you went away/That you’d soon be back to stay/I’m so lonely for your love tonight/Since you left, it’s been this way/Every night and every day/When will it/When will it ever change?/Whoa”.

‘Where I Belong’ is a pretty ballad that gets romantic: “In my mind we’re together/Even when I’m alone/And my heart leaves you never/Never will our love grow old/My destination forever/You are my shining star that navigates me home/Don’t need to search no more exotic islands/Now that I found you’re right where I belong/Never been as much at home as I am/Loving you is right where I belong”.  The next song¸ ‘I Do Love You’, is a Stevie Wonder composition.  He plays drums, bass¸ Fender Rhodes, and harmonica on this mid-tempo R&B track.  The lyrics have a guy really opening up to a gal: “When you say you do/Makes me want to spend life with you/I never knew life could be so good/When you say you care/Want to be right there beside you/And show the world/You’ve been good to me/And you know I do/All my love/You are my love/Without your love I go nowhere/All my love/You are my life/You are the girl I’m dreaming of/You’re the one I really love/I do love you (4X)”.

‘It’s Just a Matter of Time’ has a slow doo-wop groove to it and uses dobro and harmonica.  It is the song of one who is not content: “Darling, I’m lost without you/Sad with nothing to do/It’s just a matter of time/Whoa, darling/What is it you’re doing?/What’s that mood that’s brewing?/It’s just a matter of time”.  The CD release of this album includes a twelfth song called ‘Male Ego’ credited to Brian Wilson and Eugene Landy.  It includes these humorous lyrics: “Male ego is played by all/Chasing ladies and having a ball/Hey girl, I’m gonna give you a call tonight/Don’t know why we love to chase those tasty ladies/Betcha boys we’ll be doing it in our eighties”.

After this 1985 release CBS let The Beach Boys’ contract expire.  In my opinion, this album has too many sad songs on it.  Lyrically, it gives the impression that if you don’t have a lady in your life or if one has left you, you can’t be a whole, complete person and there really isn’t much to live for.  Various group members take a shot at lead vocals and the group’s well known harmonies are still there.  Unfortunately the album is a hodge podge of sorts musically and has a fair share of mediocre songs.  There are enough good ones though to warrant me giving it an 80%.  For more info visit: www.beachboys.com.

 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

WHEREVER YOU ARE


Third Day released their self-titled debut in 1996.  Their eighth studio album is WHEREVER YOU ARE (2005, Essential Records).  It debuted at No 8 on the Billboard 200.  It was nominated for Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album at the Grammy’s and also nominated for a Dove Award.  On this album Third Day is: Tai Anderson (bass), David Carr (drums), Mark Lee (guitars), Mac Powell (vocals), and Brad Avery (guitars).  Avery would leave the band in 2008.  Additional musicians used include Geof Barkley, Scotty Wilbanks, and Eric Darken.  Half of the album was produced by Third Day and half was produced by Brown Bannister who has worked with Amy Grant and Petra.

The opening song ‘Tunnel’ is one of six that Mac Powell alone wrote the words to, while the whole band wrote the music.  This rock track offers hope to the hopeless: “You’ve got your disappointments and sorrows/You ought to share the weight of that load with me/Then you will find that the light of tomorrow/Brings a new life for your eyes to see/So remember what I’ve told you/There’s so much you’re living for/There’s a light at the end of this tunnel (2X)/For you, for you”.  ‘Eagles’ is one of three songs whose words were written by Brad Avery.   These words make it clear that God is a sure Source of strength and place of refuge: “And I tremble with this heavy weight/And I’m buried underneath my grief/I’ll run to You and not grow faint/And I’ll lay my burdens at Your feet/I will soar on the wings of eagles/I will learn to fly high above this world”.

‘Cry out to Jesus’ peaked at No 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Christian Songs chart.  George Cocchini (credited as Tone Chaperone) plays acoustic guitar.  This one is a wonderful inspirational ballad: “To everyone who’s lost someone they love/Long before it was their time/You feel like the days you had were not enough/When you said goodbye/And to all of the people with burdens and pains/Keeping you back from your life/You believe that there’s nothing and there is no one/Who can make it right/There is hope for the helpless/Rest for the weary/Love for the broken heart/There is grace and forgiveness/Mercy and healing/He’ll meet you wherever you are/Cry out to Jesus (2X)”.  Musically ‘I can feel It’ is a moody rocker.  It confirms that God is alive and moving amongst His people: “I keep on searching for Your presence in this place/I see Your hand at work/I feel Your touch of grace/Sometimes it falls like rain upon this thirsty land/Sometimes You gently stir the heart of every man/I can feel it/All around me.../I can feel it/I can feel Your heartbeat”.

The words to ‘Keep on Shinin’’ were penned by Mark Lee.  This one has a happy pop/rock vibe to it.  It encourages us to overcome our fears and let Christ’s light shine through us: “It feels like forever since I can remember/It seems like it’s always been this way/Keep the good news to ourselves, like a secret we’ll never tell/I don’t know why we’ve been so ashamed/But changes are in the air, sparks are starting everywhere/And oh, what a sweet, sweet sound/With millions of voices singing new choruses/Leading the way to higher ground/Keep on, keep on shinin’/Wherever you may be/Keep on, keep on shinin’/For all the world to see”.  Next up is the reverent song ‘Communion’.  The world would be a far better place if we all prayed the following words: “I will remember everything, Lord/That You’ve done for me/I won’t take for granted/The sacrifice that set me free/I hunger and thirst for Your love/Come fill me today”.

‘Carry My Cross’ is a well orchestrated song of inner turmoil and utter determination to obey Father God: “I’m  praying in the garden/And I’m looking for a miracle/I find the journey hard but/It’s the reason I was born/Can this cup be passed on?/Lord, I pray Your will be done/In this world/So I’ll carry my cross/And I’ll carry the shame/To the end of the road/Through the struggle and pain/And I’ll do it for love/No, it won’t be in vain/Yes, I’ll carry my cross/And I’ll carry the shame”.  ‘How Do You Know’ is a great rock song!  It is one of frustration and addresses someone who tries to tell another just what they should do: “You’re thinking that you’ve got all the answers/You’ve got my situation figured out/But you’re only seeing part of the picture/There’s so much more that you don’t know about/And here you come to speak your mind/But I’ll say one more time/How do you know, how do you know/What I’m supposed to be doing?/Why do you go, why do you go on/Thinking you know my fate/So many times I’ve lost my step/But never lost my way/How do you know (2X)/When I don’t know myself?”

‘Mountain of God’ was written by Mac Powell and Brown Bannister and includes the vocal stylings of Ashley Cleveland.  They should have made it a duet, trading off verses.  This adult contemporary song places great confidence and trust in God: “Even though the journey’s long/And I know the road is hard/Well, the One who’s gone before me/He will help me carry on/And after all that I’ve been through/Now I realize the truth/That I must go through the valley/To stand upon the mountain of God”.  This reached No 1 on the Billboard Hot Christian Songs chart.  ‘Love heals your Heart’ is a song of great optimism: “When you think your life is shattered/And there’s no way to be fixed again/Love heals your heart/At a time you least expected/You’re alive like you have never been/Love heals your heart”.

‘The Sun is Shining’ speaks of God’s transforming power: “Yesterday I lost/Everything I had and loved/Then I cried out for You, Lord/And You came and picked me up/And the sorrow lasted through the night/But the joy came with the morn.../I will lift my voice/No, I won’t be silent/For You heard my cry/And You turned my mourning into dancing/And so forever I’ll sing”.  ‘Rise Up’ is a modern anthem and a great album closer!  It includes this terrific message we all need to hear: “In life or in death/Through joy or regret/And all of the secret things you have done/No matter what comes, my friend/Nothing can keep you from the love of God”.

In the CD booklet you will find the following words from the band: “Wherever you are, whoever you are, whatever you’re going through, our prayer is that this music would encourage you, bring you hope, and draw you closer to the warm embrace of your Heavenly Father”.  If I had to sum up the thesis of WHEREVER YOU ARE, it would be that you will go through troubles but with God you can come out on top of them.  This is a splendid batch of songs drawing mostly from the genres of rock and adult contemporary.  I’m rating it 88%.  For more info visit: www.thirdday.com and www.providentpress.com.

 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

JESUS FREAK


DC TALK was formed in Virginia in 1987 by Toby McKeehan, Michael Tait, and Kevin Max Smith while they were attending Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University.  The trio released five studio albums.  The first came out in 1989.  It was self-titled and included the hits ‘Heaven Bound’ and ‘Spinnin’ Round’.  JESUS FREAK, their fourth album, came out in 1995 on ForeFront Records.  It was distributed by Virgin Records in the mainstream market.  The album hit No 16 on the Billboard 200 chart.  Six of its seven singles hit No 1 on Christian radio.  JESUS FREAK won the 1997 Grammy for Best Rock Gospel Album.  Years later a tenth anniversary edition of the album (2 discs) was released.  I will be reviewing the original standard version here.

‘So Help Me God’, a grungy rocker with Dann Huff on guitars, starts things off.  The song admits that the Christian walk is not always the easiest: “Infected by the skin I’m in that’s starving with desire/And Jesus ain’t the latest thing to come across the wire/I throw myself at mercy for I am the chief of sinners/But daily taking up my cross/Has brought it’s share of splinters/You’re there when I call/And You’re there when I fall/Even though I don’t deserve it all/You, You light my way/Through the night and the day/And from You I will not stray”.  ‘Colored People’ was penned by Toby McKeehan and George Cocchini.  This pop song with a rap break is a direct attack on racism: “Ignorance has wronged some races/And vengeance is the Lord’s/If we aspire to share this space/Repentance is the cure.../We’re colored people and we live in a tainted place/We’re colored people and they call us the human race/We’ve got a history so full of mistakes/And we are colored people who depend on a Holy Grace”.

The unforgettable title track, ‘Jesus Freak’¸ was composed by Toby McKeehan and Mark Heimermann.  Musically, it blends elements of soul, rock, grunge, and rap.  Lyrically, it speaks of spiritual rebirth and its consequences: “Separated, I cut myself clean/From a past that comes back in my darkest of dreams/Been apprehended by a spiritual force/And a grace that replaced all the me I’ve divorced.../What will people think/When they hear that I’m a Jesus freak?/What will people do when they find that it’s true?/I don’t really care if they label me a Jesus freak//There ain’t no disguising the truth”.  Larry Norman would later cover the song on his concert album SHOUTING IN THE STORM.  ‘What if I Stumble?’ begins with a powerful quote by author Brennan Manning: “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today/Is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips/Then walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle/That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable”.  This mellow ballad finds the group worrying about falling spiritually and disappointing their fans and God.

‘Day by Day’ is from the early 1970’s musical ‘Godspell’.  Toby McKeehan and Kevin Smith contribute additional lyrics.  The song includes these words of godly desire: “Day by day, day by day/Day by day, day by day/Oh dear Lord, three things I pray (1,2,3)/To see Thee more clearly (day by day)/To love Thee more dearly (day by day)/To follow Thee more nearly (I got to take it)/Day by day”.  ‘Mrs. Morgan’ is a short, silly spoken word track that has a lady complaining about the group’s loud drummer.  ‘Between You and Me’ is a smooth adult contemporary number written by Toby McKeehan and Mark Heimermann.  It broke into the mainstream market.  This one is all about reconciliation: “If confession is the road to healing/Forgiveness is the promised land/I’m reaching out in my conviction/I’m longing to make amends/So, I’m sorry for the words I’ve spoken/For I’ve betrayed a friend/We’ve got a love that’s worth preserving/And a bond I will defend/Just between you and me/I’ve got something to say/I wanna get it straight/Before the sun goes down”.

‘Like It, Love It, Need It’ is an energetic rock song with a rap bridge.  It finds the group speaking directly from their heart to their generation: “You’ll never find peace of mind in your pool of self/You’ll never find peace of mind in a sea of wealth/You’ll never find peace of mind in your rock and roll/You’ll never find peace of mind if you sell your soul/You gotta like it, you gotta love it/I know you need some freedom from the strife/You gotta like it, you gotta love it/I know you need some Jesus in your life/Some Jesus in your life (2X)”. 

Next up is ‘Jesus Freak (Reprise)’.  This short track has someone goofing around vocally off key with some of the lyrics from the title track.  This is followed by a cover of a great pop song Charlie Peacock wrote in 1991 called ‘In The Light’.  DC TALK’s version has Aaron Smith on drums and includes a vocal contribution from Peacock himself.  The words of the song could easily have been written by the apostle Paul.  They are some of the most vulnerable lyrics in CCM: “What’s going on inside of me?/I despise my own behavior/This only serves to confirm my suspicions/That I’m still a man in need of a Saviour.../The disease of self runs through my blood/It’s a cancer to my soul/Every attempt on my behalf has failed/To bring this sickness under control”.

‘What Have We Become’ is a soulful song.  Jerry McPherson and Dave Perkins play guitars, while Dennis Soley plays flute.  The lyrics ask questions many Christians are still asking today: “What have we become?/A self-indulgent people/What have we become?/Tell me where are the righteous ones?/What have we become?/In a world degenerating/What have we become?”  ‘Mind’s Eye’ is a great pop/rock track.  It even includes a short spoken word by Rev. Billy Graham.  The message is one of believing in God sight unseen: “Life is a gift that You choose to give/I believe we eternally live/Faith is the evidence of things unseen/People tell me that You’re just a dream/But they don’t know You the way that I do/You’re the one I live to pursue/Can you catch the wind?/Can you see the breeze?”  Track 13 is a hidden track of sorts that came to be known as ‘Alas My Love’.  It is poetry set to music with Kevin Max Smith speaking these words about the arrest of Christ: “You see it was one man against the night/Taking on a multitude that had left Him high and dry/No candle burning vigil could light the way/Darkness hit the ground, like a fallen satellite”.

If asked to name the most influential albums in CCM history, many would say Larry Norman’s ONLY VISITING THIS PLANET (1972), Amy Grant’s AGE TO AGE (1982), and Petra’s BEYOND BELIEF (1990).  JESUS FREAK is most certainly an album of this quality.  It is like nothing CCM had seen before musically!  It mixes rap, rock, and soul, with grunge music which was pioneered by Kurt Cobain and Nirvana.  It still sounds contemporary and relevant today.  JESUS FREAK was a bold statement of faith, but also delved into social issues and societal ills.  I’m rating this album a perfect 100% as I see no way it could have been improved!  For more info visit: www.dctalk.com and www.capitolcmglabelgroup.com.  Fans continue to long for a DC TALK reunion. Toby Mac is currently a solo artist, Michael Tait is lead singer of the Newsboys, and Kevin Max now fronts Audio Adrenaline.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

ENDLESS SUMMER


ENDLESS SUMMER (1974) is an outstanding collection of songs by The Beach Boys pre-dating 1966’s PET SOUNDS.  This collection was released by The Beach Boys’ old label Capitol Records, while they were under contract with Reprise Records.  This album spent 155 weeks on the Billboard album chart.  It peaked at No 1 and sold over 3 million copies in the United States.  The songs are from the 60’s but the animated artwork accompanying the album shows The Beach Boys as they looked in the 70’s.  My parents had this on cassette and it hooked me pretty quick!

‘Surfin’ Safari’ is one of four songs penned by the duo of Brian Wilson and Mike Love.  It starts the album out on a lighthearted note: “Early in the morning we’ll be startin’ out/Some honeys will be coming along/We’re loading up our woody/With our boards inside/And headin’ out singing our song/Come on (surfin’) baby, wait and see (surfin’ safari)/Yes, I’m gonna (surfin’) take you surfin’ (surfin’ safari) with me”.  ‘Surfer Girl’ is one of twelve songs on this compilation that is credited to Brian Wilson alone.  This sleepy ballad finds a guy thinking out loud: “Little surfer, little one/Made my heart come all undone/Do you love me, do you surfer girl?/Surfer girl, my little surfer girl/I have watched you on the shore/Standing by the ocean’s roar/Do you love me, do you surfer girl?/Surfer girl, surfer girl”.

‘Catch a Wave’ is an upbeat song that praises surfing and its longevity: “Not just a fad cause it’s been going on so long/All the surfers going strong/They said it wouldn’t last too long/They’ll eat their words with a fork and spoon/And watch ‘em they’ll hit the road and all be surfin’ soon/And when they catch a wave, they’ll be sittin’ on top of the world”.  ‘The Warmth of the Sun’ is a tender song of heartbreak: “The love of my life she left me one day/I cried when she said ‘I don’t feel the same way’/Still I have the warmth of the sun within me tonight”.

Brian Wilson wrote the lyrics to ‘Surfin’ U.S.A.’ which is one of the funnest rock and roll songs ever.  The music is borrowed from Chuck Berry’s ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’.  Here are some of the words to the Beach Boys song: “We’ll all be planning out a route/We’re gonna take real soon/We’re waxing down our surfboards/We can’t wait for June/We’ll all be gone for the summer/We’re on safari to stay/Tell the teacher we’re surfin’/Surfin’ U.S.A.”  ‘Be True to your School’ encourages loyalty: “I got a letterman’s sweater/With a letter in front/I got for football and track/I’m proud to wear it now/When I cruise around/The other parts of the town/I got a decal in back/So be true to your school/Just like you would to your girl or guy/Be true to your school now/Let your colors fly”.

‘Little Deuce Coupe’ is one of two songs written by Brian Wilson and Roger Christian.  It is a groovy rock and roll song that has a guy bragging about his wheels: “She’s got a competition clutch with the four on the floor/And she purrs like a kitten till the lake pipes roar/And if that ain’t enough to make you flip your lid/There’s one more thing, I got the pink slip daddy/And comin’ off the line when the light turns green/Well, she blows ‘em outta the water like you never seen”.  ‘In My Room’ was penned by Brian Wilson and Gary Usher.  It is a pretty song that has a message just as relevant for teenagers today: “There’s a world where I can go/And tell my secrets to/In my room (2X)/In this world I lock out/All my worries and my fears/In my room (2X)/Do my dreaming and my scheming, lie awake and pray/Do my crying and my sighing, laugh at yesterday”.

‘Shut Down’ is a danceable song about a car race: “It happened on the strip where the road is wide/Two cool shorts standin’ side by side/Yeah, my fuel injected stingray and a four-thirteen/A revin’ up our engines and it sounds real mean/Tach it up, tach it up/Buddy gonna shut you down”.  ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’, is, well, a catchy song about having fun: “Well, she got her daddy’s car/And she cruised through the hamburger stand now/Seems she forgot all about the library/Like she told her old man now/And with the radio blasting/Goes cruising just as fast as she can now/And she’ll have fun, fun, fun/Till her daddy takes the T-bird away”. 

‘I Get Around’ has an adventurous spirit about it: “We always take my car cause it’s never been beat/And we’ve never missed yet with the girls we meet/None of the guys go steady cause it wouldn’t be right/To leave their best girl home now on Saturday night/I get around/Get around, round, I get around/From town to town”.  ‘The Girls on the Beach’ is a slow number that is every teenage boys fantasy: “On the beach you’ll find them there/In the sun and salty air/The girls on the beach/Are all within reach/If you know what to do/How we love to lie around/Girls with tans of golden brown/The girls on the beach/Are all within reach/And one waits there for you”.

‘Wendy’ finds a guy heartbroken: “Wendy, Wendy, what went wrong?/Oh so wrong/We went together for so long/I never thought a guy could cry/’Til you made it with another guy/Wendy, Wendy, left me alone/Hurts so bad/Wendy, Wendy, don’t lose your head/Lose your head/Wendy, don’t believe a word he says”.  ‘Let him run Wild’ is one of the most experimental tracks both musically and vocally.  Lyrically, it offers advice to a gal: “When I watched you walk with him/Tears filled my eyes/And when I heard you talk with him/I couldn’t stand his lies/And now before he tries it/I hope you realize it girl/Let him run wild, he don’t care baby”.

‘Don’t Worry Baby’ is a mellow song that contains these intimate words: “Oh, what she does to me/When she makes love to me/And she says/Don’t worry baby (3X)/Everything will turn out alright”.  ‘California Girls’ is one of my favourite mainstream songs of all time.  It’s a great party song: “Well, east coast girls are hip/I really dig those styles they wear/And the southern girls with the way they talk/They knock me out when I’m down there/The mid-west farmers daughters really make you feel alright/And the northern girls with the way they kiss/They keep their boyfriends warm at night/I wish they all could be California (2X)/I wish they all could be California girls”.

‘Girl Don’t Tell Me’ is a song of disappointment: “Hi little girl, it’s me/Don’t you know who I am?/I met you last summer/When I came up to stay with my Gran/I’m the guy/Who left you with tears in his eyes/You didn’t answer my letters/So I figured it was just a lie”.  ‘Help Me, Rhonda’ is a bouncy rock and roll song that utilizes tambourine and harmonica.  It finds a guy looking for a rebound relationship: “She was gonna be my wife/And I was gonna be her man/But she let another guy come between us/And it ruined our plan/Well, Rhonda you caught my eye/And I can give you lotsa reasons why/You gotta help me Rhonda/Help me get her out of my heart”.

‘You’re so good to Me’ paints a picture of every guy’s dream girl: “You take my hand/And you understand/When I get in a bad mood/You’re so good to me/And I love it, love it.../And every night/You hold me so tight/When I kiss you goodbye/You’re so good to me/And I love it, love it”.  ‘All Summer Long’ is a cheery song about puppy love: “Sittin’ in my car outside your house/’Member when you spilled coke all over your blouse/T-shirts, cut-offs, and a pair of thongs/We’ve been having fun all summer long.../I can’t see enough of you”.

When Capitol Records released this album on CD in 1987 they included 1966’s ‘Good Vibrations’ as the last track.  This quirky song that uses the theremin was The Beach Boys third U.S. No 1 single.  It is about sexual infatuation: “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/Good, good, good/Good vibrations”.

ENDLESS SUMMER is an absolutely terrific collection of songs representing the early years of America’s favourite band.  This album is a lot of fun to listen to!  It puts you in mind of a time when things were simpler and innocent.  This collection still serves as a good way to introduce younger audiences to these musical heroes.  I’m rating it 98%.  For more info visit: www.beachboys.com and www.capitolrecords.com.

 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

BORN IN THE U.S.A.


Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen was born on September 23, 1949.  His debut album was 1973’s GREETINGS FROM ASBURY PARK, N.J.  1975’s BORN TO RUN was quite popular.  In 1984 he released his seventh studio album BORN IN THE U.S.A. on Columbia Records.  It was the best selling album of 1985 in the United States and his most successful album ever.  It sold 15 million copies in the U.S. and 30 million worldwide.  The album produced an incredible 7 Top 10 singles.  The iconic front cover was shot by Annie Leibovitz.  BORN IN THE U.S.A. was the first compact disc manufactured in the U.S. for commercial release.  Previously Columbia had imported its cd’s from Japan.  On this album Bruce is joined by the E Street Band comprised of Roy Bittan, Clarence Clemons, Danny Federici, Garry Tallent, Steven Van Zandt, and Max Weinberg.  Clemons and Federici are sadly no longer with us.

‘Born in the U.S.A.’ is a grassroots rocker that starts the album off on a political note: “Born down in a dead man’s town/The first kick I took was when I hit the ground/You end up like a dog that’s been beat too much/Till you spend half your life just covering up/Born in the U.S.A./I was born in the U.S.A. (2X)/Born in the U.S.A./Got in a little hometown jam, so they put a rifle in my hand/Sent me off to a foreign land/To go and kill the yellow man”.  ‘Cover Me’ is a pop/rock number that finds Bruce yearning for shelter and security: “The times are tough now/Just getting tougher/This old world is rough/It’s just getting rougher/Cover me/Come on baby, cover me/Well, I’m looking for a lover who will come on in and cover me/Promise me baby you won’t let them find us/Hold me in your arms/Let’s let our love blind us/Cover me/Shut the door and cover me”.  Richie ‘La Bamba’ Rosenberg performs background vocals.

‘Darlington County’ includes a sax solo and is very cheerful musically.  It is a story song that begins like this: “Driving in to Darlington County/Me and Wayne on the Fourth of July/Driving in to Darlington County/Looking for some work on the county line/We drove down from New York City/Where the girls are pretty but they just want to know your name/Driving in to Darlington City/Got a union connection with an uncle of Wayne’s/We drove 800 miles without seeing a cop/We got rock and roll music blasting off the T-top”.  ‘Working on the Highway’ is a highly clappable, upbeat song.  It tells the relatable story of blue collar workers: “Friday night’s pay night, guys fresh out of work/Talking about the weekend, scrubbing off the dirt/Some heading home to their families, some looking to get hurt/Some going down to Stovell wearing trouble on their shirts/I work for the county out on 95/All day I hold a red flag and watch the traffic pass me by/In my head I keep a picture of a pretty little miss/Someday mister I’m gonna lead a better life than this”.

‘Downbound Train’ is a song about losing one’s partner: “She just said ‘Joe I gotta go/We had it once, we ain’t got it anymore’/She packed her bags, left me behind/She bought a ticket on the Central Line/Nights as I sleep, I hear that whistle whining/I feel her kiss in the misty rain/And I feel like I’m a rider on a downbound train”.  ‘I’m on Fire’ is a great ballad that finds Bruce sexually charged: “Hey little girl is your daddy home/Did he go away and leave you all alone?/I got a bad desire/Oh, I’m on fire/Tell me now baby, is he good to you?/Can he do to you the things that I do?/I can take you higher/I’m on fire.../At night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet and a freight train running through the middle of my head/Only you can cool  my desire/Oh, I’m on fire”.

The Boss performed the next song ‘No Surrender’ at several John Kerry presidential rallies for the 2004 campaign.  This energetic rocker includes these words of determination: “We made a promise, we swore we’d always remember/No retreat, baby no surrender/Like soldiers in the winter’s night with a vow to defend/No retreat, baby no surrender”.  ‘Bobby Jean’ uses sax to good effect, as does the next track.  This one finds Bruce missing a dear friend: “Now you hung with me when all the others turned away, turned up their nose/We liked the same music, we liked the same bands, we liked the same clothes/Yeah, we told each other that we were the wildest, the wildest things we’d ever seen/Now I wished you would have told me/I wished I could have talked to you/Just to say goodbye Bobby Jean”.

‘I’m Goin’ Down’ is a terrific song that talks of how one partner can emotionally leave a relationship: “I pull you close now baby, but when we kiss I can feel a doubt/I remember back when we started/My kisses used to turn you inside out/I used to drive you to work in the morning/Friday night I’d drive you all around/You used to love to drive me wild/But lately girl, you get your kicks from just driving me down”.  ‘Glory Days’ is one of my favourite mainstream rock songs ever.  It speaks of how we have a tendency to focus on our past: “Now I think I’m going down to the well tonight/And I’m going to drink till I get my fill/And I hope when I get old, I don’t sit around thinking about it, but I probably will/Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture/A little of the glory of/Well time slips away and leaves you with nothing mister/But boring stories of glory days”.

‘Dancing in the Dark’ was the first single from the album.  It hit No 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.  A pre-Friends Courtney Cox appears in the music video.  This fast-paced pop/rock song finds Bruce longing for companionship: “Man, I’m just tired and bored with myself/Hey there baby, I could use just a little help/You can’t start a fire/You can’t start a fire without a spark/This gun’s for hire/Even if we’re just dancing in the dark”.  ‘My Hometown’ is the last song on the album and was the last single from it.  This quiet song paints a dismal economic picture that is still relevant today: “Now Main Street’s whitewashed windows and vacant stores/Seems like there ain’t nobody wants to come down here no more/They’re closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks/Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back to your hometown/To your hometown (3X)”.

BORN IN THE U.S.A. is hands down one of the best rock albums of all time!  From start to finish there is not a filler song on it.  The stories Bruce tells are down to earth, and emotionally delivered.  This is an album for blue collar, working class people to be proud of.  This album has only gotten better with the passage of time.  I’m rating it 98%.   For more info visit: www.brucespringsteen.net and www.columbiarecords.com.

ey there bab

Friday, January 17, 2014

HEAR WHAT I SAY!


Jimmy P. Brown II founded Deliverance as a speed metal band in 1985.  They released their self-titled album in 1989.  In 1990 they released WEAPONS OF OUR WARFARE.  The video for the decidedly Christian title track received airplay on MTV.  Deliverance’s fourth album STAY OF EXECUTION leaned more towards progressive metal.  Later, the band would venture into electronic and industrial territory as well.  Jimmy P. Brown II is now 44.  He cites Iron Maiden, Queensryche, and David Bowie as vocal inspirations.  In December of 2013 Deliverance released what is said to be their final album.  HEAR WHAT I SAY! came out on 3 Frogz Records and Roxx Records  Brown performs all the vocals and rhythm guitar, Michael Phillips of Join the Dead plays lead guitar, Manny Morales plays the 5 string bass, and Jayson Sherlock of Mortification plays drums and percussion.  Brown cites these words of Jesus as being of great import to him: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind” and “Your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).

This final and tenth studio album from Deliverance opens with a short, quiet instrumental called ‘Liber111’.  It is performed and arranged by Olaf Lieb.  Next up is ‘The Annals of Subterfuge’ which could be translated ‘The Historical Record of Deception’.  Brown and Phillips wrote the music, while Brown alone wrote the lyrics.  Musically the song is thrash metal.  Lyrically, it expresses discontent with the abuses of religion: “Lies-spewing out in fury, seeking out the weak/Bold-authoritative stance, disguised as the meek/Made-to feel less than human, abnormal tendencies/Forced to surrender life’s will, a lived expectancy/Kraft (strength)-gehorsam (obediently)/Will we live our lives plagued in guilt?/Or will we live on freedom promised?/Laws of stone or felt from the heart”.

The third track is ‘Angst’ which is fear or anxiety.  This is one of the heaviest songs musically that Deliverance has recorded in some time.  It is the song of one who is disheartened with how things are: “Frustrated, perplexed, at the current world view/Maligned, upset, as the straight becomes askew/Knowledge so vast, yet we dive deeper still/Into the murk, and we’ve become the mentally ill/OCD¸ADHD quickly has become the norm/Independent thought, so swiftly to conform/Escape the real, dive into fantasy/To live with eyes closed, unfurled heresy/Worlds apart, or are you just like me?/Contempt for all, to be or not be/Or is there hope?/Will we find a cure?/Paths aligned, trails beyond the blur”.

‘Hope Lies Beyond’ was penned by Rick Mester and originally performed by Sombrance.  This one is an experimental progressive metal song with Brown singing in his lower register.  It has more tranquil, peaceful lyrics: “My eyes roll back, and I see You!/You bring me back where I am stillborn/Just let me supernova, admire me for a moment/A thousand eyes they’re on me, they flicker in the night/And I become as they”.  Brown plays keyboards.  ‘Detox’ is a pop-metal track with an opening guitar solo by Brown.  A detox involves getting rid of poisonous substances in the body.  Here are some of the words to the song: “Only so much one can take of mundane living/How much can one make without a thought of giving?/The picture is getting clear, but the air is still so thick/I can no longer shed a tear, it’s all making me sick!/I need to detox!/Unlearn the old way!/I need to detox!/Hear what I say!”

Brown says that the next song ‘Nude’ embodies where he is at spiritually and mentally with the whole concept of religion and God and our personal relationships with God.  This terrific melodic metal song is about spiritual growth and dying to self: “There has to be some way to crawl away from the mundane/To start again, be born again/And dare to live without compromise or conform.../Fly into the center of the Universe/And find the meaning behind your ‘self’/Watch it die, then watch it reborn/Stumble on this darkened path/The answers are there, reach in and see/Death is not the end, but a start/A chance/To live as if you were nude/Nothing to hide/Only as nude”.

‘Passing’ begins by reflecting on our mortality: “I’m tired of hearing and seeing death counts/The passing of another friend/The clock is ticking, the pendulum swinging/Worried hearts wonder for their end/They’re running to Doctors or the Medicine Men/Looking for the wonder cure``.  The song also talks of how we can easily turn into the living dead nowadays: “We hide from families, the neighbors and pets/And make friends with the computer/We Twit and Facebook our lives on a screen/Past friends and memories relived/I would hate to come to the end of my life/And realize I had not lived”.  Michael Phillips wrote ‘A Perfect Sky’ himself and plays all acoustic guitars and solos on it.  It is a pensive ballad: “Drifting, a thousand thoughts begin to cross my mind/The door keeps getting farther back behind/Stories and memories, a strong urge to obey/A call to act, a call to pray.../Caught up inside a peaceful bliss, a taste of Heaven upon my lips/Beauty abounding, tranquil feelings I surmise/Hoping I will not open my eyes”.

‘Where Eagles Dare’ is an Iron Maiden cover.  It was the opening track on their 1983 PIECE OF MIND album.  Brown says he enlisted the help of Ken Tamplin’s vocal academy so he could hit the high notes.  This pounding heavy metal number is over six minutes long.  It is set in World War 2: “It’s snowing outside, the rumbling sound/Of engines roar in the night/The mission is clear, the confident men/Are waiting to drop from the sky/The blizzard goes on but still they must fly/No one should go where eagles dare/Bavarian alps that lay all around/They seem to stare from below/The enemy lines a long time passed/Are lying deep in the snow/Into the night they fall through the sky/No one should fly where eagles dare”.  Last up is a German language version of ‘Detox’ called ‘Entgiftung’.  Brown has ancestry in Germany and lower Bavaria and has a lot of German fans.

2013 really was a stellar year for Christian metal fans with new albums from Stryper, Bloodgood, and Deliverance.  HEAR WHAT I SAY! is a standout album!  Deliverance has finished off at the top of their game!  In the CD booklet Brown thanks Rabbi Ahyh and The Church of YHWH “for always challenging and helping me find the light switch!”  In a recent interview with ‘Beyond the Riff’ Brown revealed that there are a few songs that did not get finished on time for this last album and that they will see the light of day.  Also, he is working on new Jupiter VI material.  I’m rating HEAR WHAT I SAY! 95%.  For more info visit: www.deliverancerocks.com, www.3frogzstudio.com, and www.roxxproductions.com.