Earlier this month, veteran Christian rocker Billy Smiley, best known for his work in Whiteheart, wrote: “… I have a deep hope and a challenge to the young musicians out there. I want to encourage you to go where no one has gone yet. Don’t imitate, but create. Use historical influences (as we all have) to create what you are going through, with your questions and journeys, and write great songs the world will connect to.” With the release of the self-titled debut The Union of Sinners and Saints, Smiley’s new band with Petra lead singer John Schlitt, the challenge to young musicians now includes trying to keep up with the old guys.
As can be expected given its leadership, The Union of Sinners and Saints is well-honed muscular melodic rock, familiar without falling into formulaic shallowness. Schlitt’s well-preserved voice retains its grit while still hitting the high notes with ease, the band featuring accomplished veterans such as Jon Knox (Adam Again and Whiteheart) alongside more recent talent in the presence of Jason Fowler serving up a massive foundation for him to lay his voice atop. Covers of Whiteheart (“Independence Day”) and Petra (“Beyond Belief”) do the originals full justice, and the pure garage rock snarl of “Old Guys Rule” alongside the subdued progressive rock vibe of “Bittersweet” are standouts among a stack of solid originals by Smiley with major contributions by Schlitt and Peter Furler of Newsboys fame. The ballads never dip into saccharine and the rockers truly rock.
In the aforementioned article by Smiley, he lamented the demise of Christian artists being able to tell stories with their songs, instead seeing a multitude of look-alike sound-alike imitators of benign secular music genres churn out endless, repetitive to distraction worship tracks. Unlike most from previous generations who are content with playing curmudgeons online but offering no alternative, Smiley along with Schlitt and company have gone out and done something about it. The Union of Sinners and Saints is not solely a great old school Christian rock album. It is a great rock‘n’roll record period; the kind one often assumes no one makes anymore. To the tremendous benefit of all, The Union of Sinners and Saints have made one.