Welcome back! Apologies to all who have been waiting for Part Two to arrive in a timely manner. It’s been, shall we say, an interesting few weeks at Dunphy Central, but let’s step away from the train tracks and sit a spell & take a look at numbers 40-through-31.
As always, when speaking about subjective topics like music, the value is in the ear of the beholder. My list might not jibe with yours, so if I choose an album you hate, or avoid an album you love, that’s just the nature of the game. Got it? Good. Let’s go.
40. Sweet Comfort Band – Cutting Edge (1982) Prior to Cutting Edge, Sweet Comfort Band had a jazzy edge about them. After the album, with the assistance of producers John and Dino Elefante, Perfect Timing had a synth-driven up-to-date (for the times) sound which initially attracted me. Perfect Timing was probably an apt title as it reached me precisely at a specific moment. Over the years however, I’ve found myself gravitating back to Cutting Edge.
A big component of that is the late-’70s/early ’80s style of the album, seemingly zeroed in on the L.A. Elektra/Asylum bent of Eagles, Jackson Browne and the like. That comes through pretty specifically on “Haven’t Seen You” which focuses on a friendship that has come apart over time, the friend in question fallen on hard times in his or her absentia. “But now you’ve burned all your bridges and you carry the weight by yourself. Nobody knows where your heart is, but we all hear it crying for help.”
Tracks like “Breakdown Love” and “What Did It Mean,” a song about divorce, highlight SCB’s secret weapon. We knew lead vocalist Bryan Duncan had a powerhouse voice, but when he joins them together with the rest of the band, the effect is stunning.
I think the reason why I come back to Cutting Edge as I do is because the band was tackling subjects I could only grasp at a distance in my teens. Perfect Timing was chrome-slick, shiny AOR, and I still enjoy those songs a great deal, but they’re locked into a time and a sound we’re no longer familiar with. For it’s stylistic simplicity, relatively speaking, Cutting Edge improves over time, and becomes more relevant in the process.
For more on the story: I spoke with Bryan Duncan to find out about the making of Cutting Edge.
Cutting Edge found SCB moving away from a jazzier style and more toward L.A. pop a’la Asylum Records, Eagles, etc. What prompted the change? Was it a natural progression, or was it difficult to move into this different sound?
Rick (Thomson) and Randy (Thomas), during Cutting Edge, were simply listening to a more Eagles-flavored sound. They were writing more together. You tend to like music that sounds like something you would do frankly. So nothing we ever did was really a difficult move! I was always an L.A. pop fan. I really didn’t care for the country thing, but the Eagles were tolerable.
“Haven’t Seen You” seems to be a very personal song and I was wondering if there was a biographical element behind it.
“Haven’t Seen You” was simply inspired by the distance from home that I was at. Specifically in my case, I was living in Southern California and my folks live in North Carolina.
SCB is reforming, so I’ve been led to believe – What’s the status report?
SCB has been writing songs for several months and we are doing some recording, but it is revolving around availability with the band members’ work schedules, and mine specifically is leaving little room to finish.
39. L.S.Underground – The Grape Prophet (1992) The career of Michael Knott is a twisted one. The band that began as Lifesavers begat Lifesavers Underground, begat L.S. Underground, begat L.S.U., begat Knott as a solo artist, begat Aunt Betty’s and so on. All these filter through Knott’s very specific aesthetic. He is, at heart, an acoustic folkie that plugs in loudly and often flies his psychedelia above that horizon. This is most evident in his solo stuff, but occasionally it creeps into the electric L.S.U. realm.
The Grape Prophet is a concept album that could have been told as an acoustic banger, a story about a collective formed around a magnetic preacher-cum-grape farmer. The people come to work on his fields to be closer to what they feel is a spiritual enclave, not what it actually is – a cult centered around slave-labor practices. This could be an allegory for the gullibility of people willing to shun spiritual truth for a pre-packaged, bite-sized one. It could also be an allegory for Knott’s own thorny relationship with the Christian music world. The Grape Prophet was one of the first from his own, ill-fated imprint Blonde Vinyl. It’s not foreign to interpret one working in “the fields of the Lord” for the profit of the Grape Prophet as working for a label conglomerate more interested in not offending the bookstore patrons, while tape ownership remains in the hands of those profiting labels.
Where Knott’s folk interests lie is in the subject matter. Yes, this is screaming, wailing rock music, and examples are liable to contradict my assertions, but the subject is right out of the Woody Guthrie mode. Knott would explore the lives of the ‘average’ later in his work.
38. The Choir – Wide-Eyed Wonder (1989) It was a transitional period for the band The Choir, to be sure. Longtime bassist Tim Chandler was on a full-time commitment with bands Daniel Amos and The Swirling Eddies (which are, in fact, virtually the same band, but more on that later) so Robin Spurs became the new person on the team. How did that work out? Actually better than anyone could have expected.
First off, as is the custom for drummer/lyricist Steve Hindalong, she was memorialized in song (being the day-glo spin of “Robin Had A Dream,” centered around the retelling of a nightmare she had), and second, she fit right in. Mr. Chandler’s signature walking-bass style left large shoes behind to fill, but she pulled it off remarkably well. This left Wide-Eyed Wonder as one of the most diverse sets in the band’s history. Singer/guitarist Derri Daugherty gets in a couple knock-down rockers with “To Cover You” and “When She Sees Me,” a languid mood piece dripping with reverb with “Car, Etc.,” and a folky tribute to fleeting childhood in the title cut. The tricky part is that Hindalong’s lyrics might be directed at his own children, which might come across strangely as Daugherty sings them, were it not for the universality with which the drummer writes. Even at his most abstract, Hindalong remains a powerful and often unappreciated lyricist.
This is not to forget Dan Michaels who, with his Lyricon, a wind instrument-midi device, adds texture as well as punch to the songs. The standout of the disc, however, is the cover of George Harrison’s “Behind That Locked Door” which Daugherty sings perfectly. As wrong as it might be to insist this, I prefer The Choir’s version to the original, if only by a hair.
37. Fold Zandura – Ultraforever (1997) This was, in a sense, a great shock and not a shock at all. The second (or third, if you’re being studious) effort from the former Mortal finds Jyro, Jerome and drummer Frank Lenz mixing pitch-shifted rock guitars with an almost boy-band feel. Now, before you start cringing and throwing stuff at your computer screen, understand that there’s nothing inherently wrong with boy-band music. It is, at it’s core, pop music – it’s just that more often than not, that pop music is smeared with an inch of girl-baiting cliche and tween-age fauxrotica.
If you can overlook the final chorus breakdown (to emphasize vocal soulfulness), and other tell-tale accoutrement, you wind up with solid harmonies, melodies and serious hooks. Tracks like “Please Believe” and “Ultradust” epitomize this in the best possible sense, but FZ hasn’t forsaken their edge entirely. Every now and then a drum-and-bass run flips expectations upside down, the closing “Starwood” burns with My Bloody Valentine guitar intensity, and “Stormy Hill” is another perfect pop song that wriggled out of the net.
And like so many phases in this band’s life, this was coming to an end. King Planet arrived later, but with nary a ripple of hoopla, and that would be it for Fold Zandura. Jyro would revive Mortal alone for the release Nu-En-Jin, and the brand would finally, unfortunately, be taken behind the barn.
36. Randy Stonehill – Between the Glory and the Flame (1981) Prior to Between The Glory And The Flame, Randy Stonehill was a part of the Larry Norman/Solid Rock collective and, much like Norman, had a bit of a folky/hippy vibe about him. While his Solid Rock albums are considered classics, it was a head-scratcher as to how Stonehill would graduate into the Eighties. With a tighter, new wave inflected sound and a mission to rock, he pulled it off rather well.
Stonehill’s backing band here is Daniel Amos and his producer is Terry Taylor. DA was once on the Solid Rock roster too but it did not go well. Norman held up release of the band’s Horrendous Disc LP right up until the band had recorded and released another album (for another label), and there had been much speculation over whether this was a move out of spite. For Taylor, this might have been fuel to make sure Stonehill’s coming-out was memorable. It certainly was.
Charging out with the title cut, Between The Glory And The Flame was, for its time, as contemporary as anything that was out in the music world. The punky power-pop of “Die Young” is a look at the adverse effects of carpe diem mentality, “Rainbow” provides a chunk of Beatlesque psychedelia, and the genuinely creepy ballad “Christine” finds Stonehill singing sweet nothings to the news broadcaster on his television set. The underlying messages of public infatuation mixed with television-informed unreality came around a decade before “celebrity stalking” was a household term, but only a year after Mark David Chapman shot and killed John Lennon. I have to assume that played a part in the song in some subliminal way.
As great as the rockers are, the ballads are equally touching, specifically “Grandfather’s Song,” with the heart-tugging chorus, “You’re sailing away, but I believe that, someday, I will see you again, ’cause I know you’re my friend, you just never liked saying goodbye.” If there was ever a thought that Randy Stonehill couldn’t make it away from the auspices of Larry Norman, this album put that thought to rest.
Fun Fact: Who’s that guitar player singing “Captain Coke” in 1972’s Beware! The Blob!? That would be Randy Stonehill. And his chick in the flick? Future Shirley Feeney, Cindy Williams.
35. Vigilantes Of Love – Slow Dark Train (1997) Former headman of Vigilantes of Love, Bill Mallonee, has expressed his dislike for being lumped in with the CCM crowd, and I can see why. Sure, he is a man of faith, but he’s also a man with a powerful and expressive command of language, and he has a way of driving a song straight into your weakest point. Once again, his music was presented to a world that just didn’t know what to make of it. Surely the revamped Capricorn Records, formerly known as the home of the Allman Brothers and Elvin Bishop, hadn’t a proper idea about it. Had this been presented directly to the CCM crowd, they probably would have been apoplectic.
The real deal is that Mallonee, much like Bruce Cockburn, never shied away from a word, a subject or a situation that was merely the right one for it’s need. That might explain “Tokyo Rose,” a song that only tangentially is about the infamous Japanese propagandist whose broadcasts during WWII haunted the Allies with speculation that their women were being unfaithful back home. Such a song expects the listener to have a clue about history to color in the empty spaces of the song. The song is rock and roll all the way, immediate and energetic, but it asks for a mature listening.
Speaking of mature, “Love Cocoon” gets a revisit on the album in a slightly different version than on the band’s previous Jugular. That album, released independently, received scandalized tongue-clucks for the frank description of a man’s love, both emotional and physical, for his wife. Again, it requires someone to rise above the usual chatter about “knockin’ boots” and approach as adults, not merely as ‘adult.’
It was hard to pinpoint the ‘best’ song on the disc. I waver between “All The Mercy We Have Found,” “Points Of My Departure” and “Only A Scratch,” and believe that last song is the most resonant of the three. It’s a meditation on suffering, and a realization that even in a sea of pain, it is a fraction of ultimate sacrifice. “I know I’m reeling, life goes so fast. I know I’m bleeding, yeah, but it’s only a scratch.” How you step up to the song delineates what you’ll walk away with. To some, it is confirmation that life is tough, but that it could always be worse. To others, it says, “I’m struggling, but in the shadow of a crucified savior, this is nothing. This is life standing before death.” In that, “Only A Scratch” marks itself the least blatant song on the list in terms of Christianese, but the clearest expression of an understanding of Christ.
For more information: Vigilantes of Love will return to this list later on, but recently Bill Mallonee announced he was parting with many of his instruments at fire-sale prices. Why? It’s hard to sing about truth when both sides of the divide tend not to be mature enough to accept it. In other words, you’ll never get rich doing what he does, but if you’re at all intrigued by what you’ve just read and are about to hear, check out Bill’s page and buy something from him today.
34. Charlie Peacock – Charlie Peacock (1986) As part of the Exit Records/Island Records agreement, Charlie Peacock’s second solo album is another one of those could’ve beens that drive music fans berserk. The album was mostly a straight-on pop collection with a spiritual mindset informing the tracks. “Down In The Lowlands” is about as blatant as it gets, but is a universal theme among the lost and downtrodden. “Show me mercy Lord, touch me where I am,” and “Down in the lowlands where the water’s deep – won’t you hear my cry, hear my shout, save me save me” is illustrative of the cliche of ‘no atheists in foxholes’, but has a deeper resonance to a believing listener.
The album shines in unlikely moments such as on “Dizzy Dean Movie,” a recollection of youth and “My People,” which finds Peacock considering his lineage, and of how perhaps there is a loss of quality over time, that even though further generations are awash in the things of the world, perhaps his forebears were still better off than he. “In the matters of the heart and soul, some I could tell you. Others, though, I wouldn’t know.”
The Island Records relationship was, in most respects, a bust for the participants. The Charlie Peacock album seemed to debut in the cutout bin, which is where I found it. The 77’s never had a shot (more on that later), and Robert Vaughn & The Shadows disappeared like an atom in a tick on a tiny dog. Peacock continued to record, write songs for others (Amy Grant apes his vocal inflections precisely on his song “Every Heartbeat”), and formed a label that debuted the band Switchfoot. Still, for all the ancillary successes, it would have been nice if it came off the merits of this particular album.
Fun fact: Peacock’s partner-in-crime for this album was Brent Bourgeois of the group Bourgeois-Tagg, famous for the hit “I Don’t Mind At All.”
33. Chagall Guevara – Chagall Guevara (1991) After Steve Taylor’s I Predict 1990 album (which I predict we’ll talk about later on), he and that album’s producer Dave Perkins along with L. Arthur Nichols, Mike Mead and Wade Jaynes formed the band Chagall Guevara and set out to take the secular market by storm. Enlisting producer Matt Wallace, who already had Faith No More and The Replacements notched into his mixing board, and employing a more moderate lyrical attack than Taylor’s CCM-label efforts, it shouldn’t have been as difficult as it wound up becoming.
The first bullet in the foot was signing to MCA Records. Hard to believe that the mothership of the Universal Music armada would be a liability, but back in 1991 MCA was failing left and right. The label hadn’t broken a new band into the market in years, and to compensate, the company went on a binge of buying up bands drifting into the buffet of diminishing returns. The end result was that older groups like The Call and newer groups like Chagall Guevara were both left to flounder.
The second bullet was that, because Taylor wasn’t pinning the lyrical tail on the donkey with a ten-foot sabre, a faction of his Christian audience ignored the venture. Understand that a lot of Christian bookstore shopping begins with reading the song titles, and with song titles like “Love Is A Dead Language,” “Murder In The Big House,”Take Me Back To Love Canal” and “The Rub Of Love,” less adventurous listeners were bound to walk away. Meanwhile, the judgmental were ready to label Taylor as a heretic and be done with him.
Meanwhile, the actual recording is a fine example of early-’90s paisley-and-leather pop rock. “Candy Guru” is a prime cut, as is the rocker “Violent Blue” and the angry blues of “Monkey Grinder.” It didn’t matter. Two shots fired and none but a smattering recognized a hit, so the band came apart. Nichols and Perkins made the industrial one-off of Passafist, Taylor recorded one more solo, Squint, and would later on become the lyricist/producer for the Newsboys, as well as the director of The Second Chance (starring Michael W. Smith) and the forthcoming adaptation of Blue Like Jazz.
Fun fact: Taylor was the producer of Sixpence None The Richer’s inescapable “Kiss Me,” and a non-album Chagall Guevara cut made its way to the soundtrack of the Christian Slater starring Pump up the Volume.
32. The Seventy Sevens – Seventy Sevens (1987) Mike Roe is one of those guitarists that drive guitar fans nuts. One moment he’s channeling The Byrds, the next it is Jerry Garcia. A couple albums on, he’s outplaying Jimmy Page on a cover of “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” (incidentally already a cover, but that’s not a secret) and yet, when it comes time to tally up lists of great guitarists, it’s impossible to wedge him in.
Once again, the ill-fated Island/Exit deal rears its ugly contracts. As Roe himself once explained, “Around the time the 77’s album was coming out, Chris Blackwell (Island head honcho) had U2 with The Joshua Tree coming out too, so we got lost in the shuffle.” Had the album been weak, the shuffle could have been understood, but the self-titled release remains one of the band’s high points. My previous post about this album still holds true. “The album is packed with great rock and roll, from the opening ”Do It For Love,” the sinister backdoor-blues of ”Pearls Before Swine,” the Byrdsian ”The Lust, The Flesh, The Eyes and the Pride of Life” to the jangle-pop majesty of ”Frames Without Photographs.” The album marked, in the minds of many, the distinction between the CCM market and great rock with a different worldview than the usual guitar-basher. Yes, the irony is not lost on me that, at that time period, the same could be said of their rivals’ U2.”
Be sure that this isn’t the last we talk about the Seventy Sevens in this series.
31. Daniel Amos – Bibleland (1994) There are a few topics CCM cannot cover effectively, since there are certain human emotions that cannot be expressed with precision under the shadow of the format. Anger, disappointment, human failings on a personal level, these all tend to be pushed to the corners of Christian music. The labels at the time had difficulty with a certain level of human experience that might not coincide with the ‘joy everyday’ ethos the industry seemed intent on fostering.
With that in mind, it’s a wonder the DA album Bibleland came out at all. The title track alone might have scared the suits, considering it is an exploration of good intentions in bad surroundings. “Bibleland” is about a Christian amusement park, and a rather tacky one at that, featuring “midgets dressed up as Peter and Paul,” “Noah’s Arcade in an Upper Room” and the whole of the property is jaw-droppingly brief as it “takes a half an hour just to see it all,” but lead singer and lyricist Terry Taylor shines the light on the person that came up with the park in the first place. “Something beautiful, something clean… behind the shabby Bible scenes, something real that built a dream called Bibleland.” It is incumbent upon the listener to decide whether this song takes good motivations spent poorly to task, or takes the judgmentalism to equal task, to remind those who would mock, hey, laugh as you will. Someone poured their heart into this. What have you done?
There are many subjects covered here, like workplace sexual harassment in “She’s Working Here” (“She’s working here – she’s damn lucky to be on the payroll”), false idolatry in “The Bubble Bursts,” and feel-good philosophy in “Constance of the Universe,” combining a gritty, Kinks-like stomper with pointedly funny and biting lyrics (“See that soul? Give him the Word. See that jerk? Gotta give him the bird!”).
Taylor has expressed in interviews that he has no specific beef with Bakersfield, California, and that the centerpiece song “Bakersfield” is mostly about how a tragedy can so drastically color one’s view. In this case, Taylor’s grandfather passed away in Bakersfield, and that forced him to see only the negatives around him – “Crusty-skinned phantoms, pock marked and drifting… milkweed and dust, stinkbugs and rust, animal excrement and murder evidence.” One cannot find spiritual edification from the song beside the knowledge that we are all products of surroundings in a way. We are all powered by our emotional threads and that it is okay to accept it, to a degree. It’s is not about what Bakersfield is but what it represents to Taylor in that moment of loss. “I won’t go back to Bakersfield, my friend died there. I loved him too much.”
Next time, we present an album that will surely scare the hell out of you. Count on it in December. Meanwhile, for people who are still on the fence regarding this mini-series’ concept, wade in gently with this playlist and we’ll see you in thirty…
Cat Stevens – Morning Has Broken (Teaser & The Firecat)
The Alan Parsons Project – Light of the World (Stereotomy)
Electric Light Orchestra – Heaven Only Knows (Balance of Power)
Blind Faith – Presence of the Lord (Blind Faith)
Anderson Bruford Wakeman & Howe – The Meeting (Anderson Bruford Wakeman & Howe)
Billy Preston – That’s The Way God Planned It (That’s The Way God Planned It)
Collective Soul – Shine (Hints Allegations and Things Left Unsaid)
The Hooters – All You Zombies (Nervous Night)
Leonard Cohen – If It Be Your Will (Various Positions)