Kevin Prosch has always had the ability to expand the parameters of contemporary worship music. I was blown away by his early records, especially Even So Come and Come to The Light, which were both highly listenable, and highly personal. His band, The Black Peppercorns, were less “church music” oriented and sang songs about love and life. And the music was great.
For the most part, Tumbling Ground is a fun and light record. Whang Dang Do is a fun, silly country-ish closer. Hopelessly in Love, which has always been my favorite, is just a great upbeat love song that has a great guitar sound. She Walks in Beauty is another standout, while the emotional opener Please has all the signs of a telltale Prosch song.
For Prosch, it marked the beginning of a prolific period. It was the first of five record he recorded from 1995-98, one of which (The Finer Things in Life) was a collaboration with music veteran, guitarist Bryn Haworth. The Black Peppercorns definitely set the bar high for Prosch, who has always been a great songwriter and definitely knows how to hit you between the eyes lyrically. Tumbling Ground is great place introduction to Prosch if you haven’t heard him before.
Tracks: 1. Please; 2. She walks in beauty; 3. Love is all you need; 4. Tumbling ground; 5. Thinking of you; 6. Come to me; 7. Hopelessly in love; 8. A song for Natalia; 9. Whang dang do.
Keith Green needs no introduction for most CCM fans, the fiery young piano-playing singer whose tragic death in an airplane crash ended his life far too soon. But his music lives on, as does the legacy of the polarizing artist. He was outspoken with a get-right-with-God, in-your-face approach that defined his career, although he shunned celebrity status. However, in a bitter twist of irony, Green, who blasted the CCM money-making machine for cashing in on the gospel (and even negotiated a contract for his music and concerts to be free), has had his music reissued on various compilations and greatest hits packages over the years…along with books and videos about his life.
You can’t blame the idealist for how things turned out. Nor can you ignore the demand for his music to be heard in the decades that have followed his untimely death. For Him Who Has Ears to Hear was Green’s first record and it is best described as piano-oriented pop that wouldn’t be out of place on an Elton John or Billy Joel album. There are some amazing songs on the record (except for the lyrical content, that is). You Put This Love in My Heart is a great opener, and one of the best tracks alongside He’ll Take Care of The Rest and Your Love Broke Through.
Green would go on to record three more records prior to that fateful flight in 1982. I’ve always enjoyed his music in small doses, and really appreciate his passion and fact that he wore his heart on his sleeve at all times. For Him Who Has Ears to Hear is no doubt a Keith Green classic and must have from the Jesus music era.
Now, this was an alternative worship record that was explicitly named as such. Alternative Worship: Prayers, Petitions, and Praise was an album produced by none other than Michael Knott and featured members from the Aunt Bettys as well as Christian alt-rock heavyweights Terry Scott Taylor (DA) and Gene Eugene (Adam Again).
The record is a collection of what can best described as melancholy worship songs. Although the album boasts some bright spots, its mostly sombre, yet hopeful. “River of Love” has always been my favorite song alongside “Shine.” There are also a pair of acoustic numbers that are absolutely brilliant. Knott sings accompanied by piano on “Call on You,” then acoustic guitar on “Never Forsaken.” Both songs typify the back half of the record, which is generally subdued and acoustic. There’s even a rendition of the traditional hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy.”
This remains one of my favorite records to this day. It’s also another reminder of Knott’s versatility as a songwriter and musician, and another nod to just how good some of the music was that came from the fringes of the CCM scene in the early ’90s.
Now here’s a record that blew away my conceptions of what contemporary worship was all about. It was beautiful, devotional, liturgical and meditational. It coloured outside the lines of what “worship” in the Evangelical church was all about. There were elements of mystery, intrigue and awe. It felt like being at a Catholic mass, as scary as that was (and may still be) for some Protestants.
And it didn’t hurt that Steve Hindalong and Deri Daugherty of the The Choir, along with a host of their CCM counterparts, were involved in the project. The record plays out in three parts: Mystery, Atonement and Inspiration. I’ve always thought Beautiful Scandalous Night was absolutely stunning, perhaps the most beautiful song ever written about the crucifixion. And the harmonies on the traditional My Redeemer Lives are spine-tingling. Oh, and Sanctified is a pure joy to listen to, thanks to the Julie Miller/Buddy Miller/Victoria Williams trio.
In retrospect, this may be my favorite worship album ever. It’s not nearly as “commercial” as what record executives may like, but it’s darn good. If you haven’t heard it, but love to revel in the mystery of the cross, this album may just blow you away.
Tracks: 1. Clouds, Rain, Fire (2:48); 2. Round About You (3:18); 3. Sanctus (1:51); 4. When The Sun Fades (4:51); 5. Heal Us Oh Lord (1:29); 6. Beautiful Scandalous Night (3:48); 7. Kyrie (2:19); 8. My Redeemer Lives (2:53); 9. Sanctified (2:42); 10. Teach Us To Love You (4:02); 11. Peace (3:25); 12. Agnus Dei-Dona Nobis Pacem (4:06)
Now this was one of the first records I ever owned. Everything about this album evokes memories, from the cover with Anne Herring, Matthew Ward and Nelly Ward (all of whom have long hair!) to the song titles. It’s no Stryper and 2nd Chapter of Acts isn’t going to rock your socks off, but it’s good music. And it’s dominated by the lush harmonies of Anne, Buck and Nelly who sing inoffensive but inspired gospel music. It’s soft rock at best, but there’s some toe-tapping good times to be had on With Footnotes, which was the band’s debut record. The trio would go on to churn out a number of records during the ’70s and ’80s, including the super cool 1980’sThe Roar of Love that was based on C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia.
With Footnotes delivered some memorable songs, of which the The Devil’s Lost Again, Easter Song and the opener Which Way the Wind Blows were always my favorites. There’s some rousing piano playing on the record, which is on full display on Love, Peace, Joy. There’s even some heavy guitar riffing on The Devil’s Lost Again and some licks on Good News.
As one of the bands to come out of the Jesus Music movement, 2nd Chapter of Acts was a highly listenable singing group that played with such early Christian contemporary music heavyweights as Barry McGuire and Phil Keaggy. I’ve had a number of the band’s records in my collection over the years, and really appreciate the music. The trio certainly sets the standard high when it comes to quality, and With Footnotes is a testament to the age old question: Why should the Devil have all the good music?
1. “Which Way The Wind Blows”
2. “Goin’ Home”
3. “With Jesus”
4. “The Devil’s Lost Again”
5. “Love, Peace, Joy”
6. “I Don’t Wanna Go Home”
7. “Easter Song”
8. “He Loves Me”
9. “Good News”
10. “I Fall In Love/Change”
11. “The Son Comes Over The Hill”
Miracle may just be the first Christian music album I ever owned. It was either that or Silverwind’s A Song in the Night. Nevertheless, I still have a soft spot for this record after all these years, even if B.J. Thomas has more in common with Neil Diamond and Tom Jones than I’d like to admit. Thomas has been referred to as one of earliest “crossover” artists to find success in both the Christian and secular music industry, although Johnny Cash and Elvis did gospel too, but not for Christian labels*. (Of Cash’s 10-plus gospel records, one was released by Word). The hit 1969 single Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head is one of Thomas’s claim to fame. He didn’t write it, but boy, he sure had the exact kind of vocals the song needed. I still can’t believe Bob Dylan was approached to record the song, which certainly would have turned out different.
Raindrops hit the charts the year after Thomas’s Hooked on a Feeling, which also sold copies in the MILLIONS. I still love the sound of the electric sitar in the song, not that it was anything new. Who can forget The Beatle’s foray into Eastern-inspired sounds on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which came out in 1967? And it wasn’t the first time The Beatles had gone Eastern. Norwegian Wood (This Bird has Flown) from 1965’s Rubber Soulis credited as the first Western rock song to feature sitar. (For the record, the Rolling Stone’s hit Paint it Black featured sitar the following year).
Now that we’ve gotten firmly off track, let’s just say to summarize that Thomas was in the game in its early stages. His first record as B.J. and the Triumphs, named after and with a cover of Hank William’s I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, came out in 1966. The album went Gold and Thomas was well on his way to pop stardom. Fast forward to 1976, and Thomas cut his first gospel record (Home Where I Belong) on Myrrh Records. He continued to release records for both major Christian and secular labels at a prolific rate for the better part of the next three decades.
And 1983 turned out to be one of the busiest years in the business for Thomas. Miracle and Peace in the Valley came out on Myrrh Records, while As We Know Him was released on MCA. While I had long ago lost my original cassette of Miracle, I found it at a thrift store this past weekend with its familiar purple and pink colour scheme. A long-haired Thomas is pictured on the front on a forest trail, casually dressed in jeans, what could be cowboy boots (it’s hard to tell for sure) and an open jacket with his hands in his front pockets. It’s a simple photo, but the memories it brings back are rich – and so is the music.
From the opening refrains of Satan You’re A Liar, I remember it 30 years later just like it was yesterday. Musically, Miracle is as easy listening as it gets with orchestral strings, acoustic guitar and a lightly-played keys…the kind of sound you’d hear in a department store elevator (case in point: listen to the arrangement on Hey Jesus, You’re My Best Friend).
Although rare, there are some great electric guitar leads on Born Again, while Sail On Atlanta serves as a solid closer. After all these years, though, my favorite song remains Mr. Heartache Mender, with the tender I Need a Miracle a close second. For sure, listening to Miracle 30 years later serves primarily as a healthy does of nostalgia. Thomas’s Miracle may have been the perfect cassette to ease me into the world of Christian contemporary musc. It’s certainly lighter fare, but it does have some hooks and that simple, timeless gospel message that remains relevant no matter what genre of music you’re talking about.