“Dig Here, Said the Angel” by Daniel Amos a music masterpiece

There’s good. There’s great. There’s brilliant. And then there’s instant timeless classic. “Dig Here, Said the Angel” by Daniel Amos is the latter, and then some.

The band’s first release since 2001’s “Mr. Buechner’s Dream,” “Dig Here, Said the Angel” finds Terry Scott Taylor and compatriots exploring a musical mix fusing various flavors of late ’60s psychedelia with the shimmering combination of power pop and Bakersfield country/latter-day Laurel Canyon Mafia country/rock fusion exemplified in earlier Daniel Amos releases such as “MotorCycle.” The emphasis is on the psychedelic, sometimes basking in musical sunshine such as ‘Jesus Wept’ and other times menacing such as on the title track. Throughout, Taylor and the band’s melodic sense reigns supreme, with nary a tuneless or throwaway track to be found.

Lyrically, the album pierces mind and soul with purposeful intelligence. Taylor has long been one of Christian rock’s premiere lyricists. This time through he has outdone himself, exploring grace’s enveloping nature, the nature of suffering and meditations on his own mortality among other topics. In ‘We’ll All Know Soon Enough’ he challenges non-believers not with Bible-blasting broadsides, but with a quiet reminder of mankind’s common fate. On the flip side, ‘Now That I’ve Died’ comes from the viewpoint of how entering heaven entails the ultimate self-improvement movement. The pure anthem ‘The Sun Shines on Everyone’ is a gentle yet forceful reminder that God’s love extends to everyone and He alone reserves judgment. These are but a few of the terrific songs from start to finish on this superb album.

It is no exaggeration to say that “Dig Here, Said the Angel” is Daniel Amos’ greatest work. It is also no exaggeration to say that in the annals of Christian rock, only “Only Visiting This Planet” by Larry Norman is a more masterful work. It is that good.

The album will be released later this year and will be available on the band’s website.

Steve Scott’s “Emotional Tourist” is the thinking Christian’s art

It’s fitting on Christendom’s most solemn day – Good Friday – to remember how Christ’s passion and death were foretold in brutally beautiful poetry by the prophet Isaiah: “But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.”

Using poetry and spoken language to convey both Christ’s message and the full spectrum of our relationship with Him, and each other, is something of a lost art these days, especially in contemporary Christian music where the overwhelming emphasis is on fundamental praise and worship. It’s not that there is anything wrong with praise and worship; they are vital elements of every believer’s life. However, there is more to life as a whole. Much, much more.

Enter Steve Scott.

Although a native Englishman, Scott is very much a part of the San Francisco Bay Area music scene via his involvement with local artists such as the late Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill and Mike Roe. Now based in Sacramento, Scott has carved out a niche for himself as someone far more concerned about artistic integrity and creativity than commercial acceptance. Like most true artists, he has found a small but devoted audience. With the release of Emotional Tourist: A Steve Scott Retrospective, a compilation of some of the best tracks from various albums he’s recorded during his career, this small number should grow quite a bit.

Scott’s music has shifted over the years from a more jangly guitar-based rock to reflective keyboard washes etched with haunting melody; always modern, always demanding attention. Lyrically, be it sung or spoken Scott’s focus is on world and humanity observations from a Christian perspective while going far beyond the stock evangelical action safety net. A brilliant example is “No Memory of You,” detailing Scott’s encounter with prostitutes in Java where in lieu of hitting them over the head with his Bible he shows them pictures of his infant daughter.

Emotional Tourist: A Steve Scott Retrospective is not background music for self-administered spiritual coddling sessions. It makes you listen. It makes you think. Scott’s words challenge faith not by calling it into question, but rather by questioning whether our faith, and our God, is too limited. If you’re looking for warm fuzzies, this record isn’t for you. But if you’re looking for the thinking person’s Christian rock by Christian rock’s thinking person, Emotional Tourist: A Steve Scott Retrospective perfectly fills the bill.

The record is available on Amazon and iTunes.

“Sticks and Stones” by the 77s hurts only those who don’t give it a listen

It seems odd that in today’s Christian music world so little is known of the genre’s roots. Regardless of age, the average pop or rock fan can easily rattle off any number of artists stretching through past decades who have influenced their current favorites, or are their favorites now despite a generation gap. Very few young Christian rock fans have any idea who the artists are that paved the way for their favorites to play rock’n’roll without numerous thunderous denouncements of this “evil” music form, leading impressionable youth astray, emanating from multiple pulpits across the land.

Thankfully, more than a few of the artists who made bands such as Switchfoot and Third Day a possibility are reissuing their seminal albums from the 1980s and 1990s, some getting out on the road to remind the fans both old and new about who started it all. One such band, the 77s led by San Jose native Mike Roe, have re-released Sticks and Stones, their almost accidental 1990 record heralded by many fans as their best work.

Sticks and Stones originally came about as something of a swan song, a collection of unreleased tracks and demos of songs that originally appeared on the band’s eponymously titled record on the Island label which was released in 1987 (the band had previously released two albums on the independent Exit Records label). At the time of its release the band was in tatters, with original members Jan Eric and Mark Tootle having left. After briefly considering calling it quits altogether, Roe and Aaron Smith decided to soldier on, recruiting David Leonhardt and Mark Harmon. However, they needed something new on store shelves for airplay and to support as they resumed touring. Enter Sticks and Stones.

What is most surprising to new listeners is not only how cohesive the album is despite its grab bag origins, but how well the music has held up over twenty-two years. The 77s from their beginnings have been an eclectic group, mixing blues and power pop into a unique blend that has barely aged a day. Songs such as “This Is the Way Love Is” and “Perfect Blues” bristle with snarling energy, while “Don’t, This Way” and the original demo of “The Lust, the Flesh, the Eyes & the Pride of Life” remain achingly beautiful in both lyrics and melody. The album has been remastered, with numerous excellent live tracks added to its original fourteen songs.

Regrettably, it’s doubtful much from this once again available classic will find its way onto Christian radio station’s playlists. Their loss, and also that of their audience’s. Sticks and Stones by the 77s is a true masterpiece, one deserving maximum exposure. One listen and you’ll know why.

The album is available for purchase as a download and CD from the band’s website.

Kerosene Halo shines a gentle light

Mike Roe and Derri Daugherty, individually known as the leaders of legendary Christian alternative rock bands the 77s and the Choir who together form half of Americana roots rock band the Lost Dogs, have released a eponymous record together under the moniker Kerosene Halo. It’s well worth a listen.

Musically, Kerosene Halo is firmly rooted in the Lost Dogs’ acoustic side, if anything more gentle and folk-oriented. The music and vocals are dreamy and introspective without slipping into mush, with songs carefully chosen to maintain the mood including two by Roe and Daugherty’s Lost Dogs compatriot Terry Taylor. Long time fans of Christian rock will be heartened by an affectionate cover of Larry Norman’s “The Outlaw,” while the musically aware will note an effective rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hey, That’s No Way to Say Goodbye.”

Kerosene Halo doesn’t yield its treasures all at once. It requires several listens, each unveiling a new layer in the music’s deceptive simplicity. The record hearkens back to traditional country, music of straightforward grace and beauty minus slick embellishment.

In short, Kerosene Halo is a terrific record. Listen to it and find some peace.

The record is available on CD from the band’s website, and as a download from the band’s website as well as iTunes and Amazon.

A Royal Blue Silk Rose

You know the routine.

It’s game day, or race day. You take your seat, be it in front of the television or if you’re lucky among the thousands or tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands attending the day’s event. You watch; you cheer and boo; you exhort your favorite. At the end of the day you celebrate or commiserate depending on how the proceedings went. You talk or grouse about it, feeling happy or ticked for a while depending on what happened. And then you file it all away until the next game, the next race. It’s all part of being a fan.

You see the team or individual you root for, and in them that is exactly what you see. It’s not life or death. The sun will come up tomorrow regardless of their performance on that day. Sure, they’re your team, your driver. But that’s all. They’re the ones for whom you cheer. That’s where it ends.

Most of the time.

Sometimes, you see the team, the driver for whom you cheer, and you don’t see them at all. You see a moment, a place in the past, a time where an inexorable bond was forged indelibly identifying a team or individual with someone you know, or someone you knew; a memory that never fades. You see a team or individual, and suddenly you are no longer where you are. You’re somewhere else, somewhere long ago and far away yet as vibrant as though it was happening in the here and now. You’re at your first ballgame; you’re watching a highlight moment with family or friends no longer here. It is as though these moments live again. It is as though these people have never left.

That’s why you take it far more personally than is the norm when someone speaks against this team, this individual serving as a bridge between today and a bittersweet yesterday filled with magic and loss. Sure, you get your back up when someone trashtalks your team or driver. You give as good as you get. But you don’t take it all that seriously. The same cannot be said about the ones unknowingly serving as a bridge. They’re not just another team, another driver for whom you root. They are set apart, privately sacred. They are consecrated; living servants acting as a conduit from where you were and who you were with to where you are now, without those you were with before.

This is why today’s Super Bowl was far more than another game to me, or even another championship game. As has been said before, I am a card carrying season ticket owning member of the Raiders Nation. That’s my team. I go to the home games, I watch the away games on television, I have far too often buried my head in my hands these past few seasons wondering when this team will start playing like the Raiders I grew up with; i.e. winning. I’m a fan.

But when I see the Colts, I don’t see a football team. I see my heritage, this hybrid of Orange County Republican and small-town Hoosier hick born, raised, and living in the San Francisco Bay Area. I hear the phone conversations with my Dad after he retired and moved back home to rural central Indiana, me going with him and Mom for a spell before returning back here, commiserating over the Colts when they were bad and celebrating when they good following their move to Indianapolis in 1984. I see my first Colts game seen live at home, two years after my beloved father had passed away in 1999. In a touch of bitter irony, it was played the first weekend sports had resumed after September 11th, and the pre-game ceremonies were filled with the kind of heartland patriotism coast dwellers deride as hackneyed cornpone drivel. But not to me.

Every season ended with a promise unfulfilled, at best a playoff disappointment. Every season after that game ended with a different promise unfulfilled, something I had vowed upon my first visit to my father’s grave that September of 2001 would someday be done if it was allowed to be done.

It never was.

Not until tonight.

Tonight, as I pull out my Colts finery to wear with even more pride than usual, preparing to luxuriate in this ultimate triumph and its penultimate companion the amazing, heart-stopping comeback victory against the archrival Patriots in the AFC championship game two weeks ago, a note is made of a promise now enabled. It is not a great thing, but it is an item I swore to both my heavenly Father and my earthly father now in heaven would be done. And it will be done.

I will find a royal blue silk rose, and at the base of the pedals tie around it a white ribbon. On it, printed in silver, will be these words:

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
SUPER BOWL XVI CHAMPIONS

I will lay the rose on my father’s grave, and then I will look to the skies and say the words I longed to say when my father was hear, but know in fact he will still hear:

“They won, Dad.”

They won.

Getting It Going

Before I trot off to the office, a quick update on what’s happening:

I was humbled and honored to meet Beth Jahnsen and Dawn Wisner-Johnson this past Monday evening on a very rainy night in Colton. Now more than ever I am determined to get the book done.

Now comes the hard part: setting up and doing the interviews, then the transcribing, then the follow-up interviews, then more transcribing, then putting it all together in written form. But that’s okay. This workload is one I joyfully embrace.

Now if I could just shake this cold! Oh well. It’ll be gone in a few days and I’ll stop sounding like Flippy The Frog after gargling with drain cleaner (cough, sniff, honk, ah-choo).

Losing Sleep (But It’s Okay)

I’ve been spending more than a few nights lately in seemingly endless sleeplessness, trying to sort out different events and thoughts. I imagine most everyone has such nights, when the brain kicks into overdrive while the body is failing to convince it that taking five and catching some Z’s would be the best course of action. When you start making a habit of it, though, it can be a cause of concern … not to mention functionality loss the next morning.

Two thoughts are occupying the majority of my staring behind closed eyelids. One is trying to work out how to deal with the hurt directly caused by those who once said they were the closest of friends, but whose recent actions have shown them to be anything but. I’d like to forgive and forget and move on, but as I’ve mentioned before forgiveness is always a struggle with me, be it of others or myself. Definitely a weakness; something to attack full force.

The other thought is on a more positive note. Next week, I’ll be meeting with a couple of people who I’ve never met in person, yet with whom I have exchanged e-mails. There is a common bond between us, one of faith, and from that another common bond: a desire to call home those who once embraced the faith, but now although not having abandoned it have grown indifferent. There is also a desire to bring forth evidence of how work done in days gone by, back during heady days of youthful exuberance, bore fruit then and bears fruit now even if those who did the work aren’t always, or often if ever, aware of how their efforts touched the lives of others.

I’m not into melodramatic statements, but it is no exaggeration to say if what I’m envisioning — a book detailing the lives and faith of these workers, the Christian pop and rock musicians of the ‘80s — comes into being, it will be the most important writing I’ve ever done. The potential to help them tell their stories and sound their call of how despite the personal and professional, and even spiritual, garbage hurled at them during their time in the spotlight they kept or at least returned to the faith is a humbling honor. These people were my heroes then; even more so now. Their story deserves to be told … no, that’s not strong enough. It demands to be told.

I’ll be using this space to keep everyone posted as to the project’s progress, fill in the details, and such. Any and all prayers will be more than appreciated. This is an opportunity to do something that truly matters, and it is only through our Lord’s grace that I will be able to do my part in this.

For this, I don’t mind losing sleep.