1. Michael Knott: Screaming Brittle Siren

SIREN
BLONDE VINYL, 1992

This is it. The record that blew my mind in the early ’90s as a young adult trying to find my way in a harsh, cruel world. And Screaming Brittle Siren was the soundtrack to the inner angst I felt. Well, that’s probably reading into it a bit too much. Let’s just say I have a soft spot for Screaming Brittle Siren, which is arguably the greatest Michael Knott solo record and perhaps the best Christian rock record ever made.

For starters, the music was raw, the lyrics were poignant and personal, and the instrumentation (yay, cello!) was breathtaking. It’s an adventurous 13 tracks, with the unforgettable, uncomfortable and sensational Crash and Burn. And I love how the record starts with Miles From Shame, which is such a great track. Then, three songs in, you have Apocalypse Lips, which I’ve heard someone refer to as their favorite Michael Knott song ever. Four songs in and you get the haunting Brittle Body with a whole lot of that sweet, sweet cello. It’s magnificent, and segues nicely into Blood on My Hands. There’s just no slow down on this record. The back side of the album is highlighted by the superb Draw The Line, while Gold Silver Soup and Silk is one of the coolest instrumentals you’ll ever hear. But the record would not be complete with I Am No Christ, one of the greatest Knott songs ever put to tape. And I absolutely love how, despite all doom and gloom of Knott’s inner torment and agony over sin, doubt and faith, the record ends on a hopeful high with Shine a Light.

Yup, Screaming Brittle Siren is a great, great record deserving of a fair amount of gushing over. Of course, that’s just one man’s opinion. But if there was only one Christian rock record I could take with me to that proverbial deserted island, this would be it.

 

Advertisements

3. Resurrection Band: D.M.Z.

Rez band-dmz
(Light Records, 1982)

Well, the thing with Resurrection Band is there are just so many good records to listen to. The Christian hard rock pioneers have a bulging discography, and it’s really hard to settle on just one record as THE one to own. And I’m not sure if D.M.Z. would be THAT record, but I do have a fondness for this one.

For starters, it was my first Rez Band album — and has  Military Man, which begins with a great guitar riff and never relents. Military Man, a concert staple, set the tone for D.M.Z., which just might be the Resurrection Band record that rocks the hardest. Babylon and White Noise are likewise all-out rockers, the former of which begins with a wailing siren. And what about Area 312? It has just a great groove, Wendi’s vocals are good, the drums are awesome and there’s a catchy chorus to boot. The record closes with the wonderful So In Love With You, a keyboard-dominated track that soars along.

Resurrection Band’s greatest record? Maybe not, since Colours often gets the nod. Truth is, you can’t go wrong with anything the band released from 1978-82. D.M.Z. was the band’s fifth record and marked the end of Rez’s early prolific period. Two years later, Rez had moved to a different label (from Light to Sparrow records) and had embraced a slightly different sound on Hostage. In that regard, D.M.Z. was a fitting close to Rez Band’s early work and the shifting sounds of the ’80s.

 

8. The Prayer Chain: Shawl

the prayer chain -shawl
Reunion Records, 1993

Shawl was like nothing ever heard before when it came out. That’s as far as Christian music went, and The Prayer Chain had certainly been listening to the shifting soundscape of rock ‘n’ roll in the early ’90s and bands such as Nirvana, although Kurt Cobain and his band weren’t the first play punked-up grunge.

And Shawl was an alternative rock gem from a band that was really, really good and had made leaps and bounds from its debut, the Whirlpool EP. Everything came together for The Prayer Chain on Shawl. The first side is absolutely brilliant. Crawl is a great anthemic opener (“to shine is dead!”), while Dig Dug, Fifty-Eight and Like I Was are equally great. Then the band shows an amazing versatility on The Hollow, a haunting number with sparse instrumentation highlighted by superb percussion. The record doesn’t lag halfway through either. Never Enough ramps things up to a fever pitch, a spectacular soaring song about the blood of Jesus. The follow-up Wrounde is oh so good, kind of reminiscent of the direction the band took on Mercury. Pure is another can’t miss gem, and the closer Psycho Flange is superbly constructed, a moody rocker that doesn’t relent.

Repeated listens are necessary with Shawl, not because it takes the music a while to grow on you, but because it’s that good. This CD was one of the ones I played to death back in ’93 and for years after that. You really can’t go wrong with the Prayer Chain, and Shawl is ’90s Christian rock at its best.

 

12. Undercover: Branded

(Blue Collar, 1986)
(Blue Collar, 1986)

Branded is the definitive Undercover record, the one in which happy-clappy Jesus songs ran headlong into the ins and outs of life. It’s the result of faith tested by fire, of life lived outside the vacuum of church culture where one is forced to make sense of how to live in the world while not being of it.

And it was a breath of fresh air in terms of honesty. Christian, yes, but I’m Just a Man seems to sum up the response that hey, we’re all sinners. Branded is not always an easy listen. There’s a stark fury and ragged honesty on Darkest Hour, an emotional, confessional plea, and the song that is the highlight of the record. Musically, the record flirts with new wave such as on the keyboard-driven The Fight for Love, but also plays it hard and heavy, no more so than on the pounding thrash beat of Tears in Your Eyes.

For sure, Branded is a verified Christian rock classic. It takes on emotional toll on the listener, who is taken to various heights and depths as the music rises and falls, all in the capable, talented hands of Undercover.

TRACKS:

1. I’m Just A Man 2. The Fight For Love 3. Where Can I Go? 4. Tears In Your Eyes 5. Pilate 6. Build A Castle 7. Cry Myself To Sleep 8. Prelude (instrumental) 9. Darkest Hour 10. Interlude (instrumental) 11. Come Away With Me 12. If I Had A Dream

LISTEN HERE:

http://grooveshark.com/#!/album/Branded+25th+Anniversary+Edition+Disc+1/6404007

13. Daniel Amos: Doppelganger

(Alarma!, 1983)
(Alarma!, 1983)

Heck, Daniel Amos is just too good not to give a three-peat on this list of 100 influential  Christian rock records. Sadly, though, many didn’t make the cut for various reasons. But Doppelganger? Well, you can’t like Daniel Amos and not like Doppelganger. And although Vox Humana opened up my world to theirs, Doppelganger was the record that turned me into a full blown Daniel Amos fan.

This was the record with Mall (All Over The World). Youth With a Machine. Real Girls. Autographs for the Sick. New Car! There are so many great tracks on this 15-song epic. The record was the fitting sequel to Alarma!, but packed an even more lethal punch.

You can’t go wrong with any number of Daniel Amos records. With DA, the more is the merrier and three is definitely not a crowd. If stuck alone on deserted island with only a single, solitary Daniel Amos record, this would be it. That’s a cruel blow to Fearful Symmetry, Kalhoun, Darn Floor Big Bite, Horrendous Disc and other DA greats. Yup, Daniel Amos is perhaps the greatest Christian rock band ever. Innovative, contemplative, imaginative and always up to the task.

TRACKS:

  1. Hollow Man
  2. Mall (All Over The World)
  3. Real Girls
  4. New Car!
  5. Do Big Boys Cry
  6. Youth With A Machine
  7. The Double
  8. Distance and Direction
  9. Memory Lane
  10. Angels Tuck You In
  11. Little Crosses
  12. Autographs for the Sick
  13. I Didn’t Build It For Me
  14. Here I Am
  15. Hollow Man (Reprise)

LISTEN HERE:

http://grooveshark.com/#!/album/Doppelganger/5130278

14. Steve Taylor: On the Fritz

(Sparrow, 1985)
(Sparrow, 1985)

Well, the CCM’s 500 Best Albums of All Time blog got something right: Steve Taylor’s Meltdown was indeed a masterpiece and deserving of a lofty position in the upper echelon of the greatest Christian rock records ever recorded. It made the top 10, slotted in nicely at #9 just ahead of Charlie Peacock’s Lie Down in the Grass. Of course, every “best of” list is subjective, and possibly suspect. (Amy Grant’s Lead Me On at #20? Are you kidding me? Ahead of Unguarded, and Age to Age?) Anyway, if Grant is lauded as the so-called “queen” of Christian Rock, would Steve Taylor be king?

Probably not. Back in the day, Michael W. Smith was arguably CCM’s most bankable male vocalist, with a hard-pressing David Meece in the mix — and the likes of Steve Taylor and Mark Heard offstage centre. Maybe it was Taylor’s sarcastic wit. His inability to write songs that music executives wanted to hear. Instead, Taylor turned the industry on it’s head and wrote songs that certainly didn’t play it safe or were in the best interest of job security. Case in point: We Don’t Need No Colour Code, Taylor’s jab at Bob Jones University’s policies on Meltdown, which was a great record. But was it as good as On The Fritz?

Well, as we said. Best of lists are subjective and really a matter of personal opinion. And don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Meltdown, but On the Fritz had some extraordinary moments that give it the edge in my books. I mean, think about Lifeboat. It kind of defines what the record is all about, colouring outside the lines and taking artistic license in the rock ‘n’ roll genre. And the song that follows it, Drive, He Said, is sheer songwriting brilliance.

Truth be told (yes, a subtle nod to Taylor’s Now The Truth Can Be Told, the 18-track box set released in 1994), the lead track on On The Fritz (This Disco) is my least favourite. The rest are gold . I love the haunting honesty of I Just Wanna Know. And those lyrics! How about these: “Build a kingdom with a cattle prod. Tell the masses it’s a message from God” (I Manipulate). Or “You’re entitled to believe, but the latest Gallup Poll. Says you mustn’t interfere, that’s the government’s role” (It’s A Personal Thing).

Taylor’s I Predict 1990 didn’t really lose any of On The Fritz’s wittiness and sarcastic steam. Perhaps his schtick had growing old three years later on Squint, but it was still miles ahead of a lot of Christian music as far as lyrical content/quality entertainment. But everybody has a shelf life, and On The Fritz was as fresh as it gets.

TRACKS:

  1. This Disco (Used to Be a Cute Cathedral)
  2. On The Fritz
  3. It’s a Personal Thing
  4. To Forgive
  5. You’ve Been Bought
  6. You Don’t Owe Me Nothing
  7. I Manipulate
  8. Lifeboat
  9. Drive, He Said
  10. I Just Wanna Know

LISTEN HERE:

http://www.last.fm/music/Steve+Taylor/On+the+Fritz

15. Breakfast With Amy: Dad

breakfaswithamy-dad
(Blonde Vinyl, 1991)

Of all the bands to grace the ’90s CCM scene, Breakfast With Amy may have been the craziest. The band fused freestyle jamming with psychedelic sounds, far-out lyrics and hippie sensibilities. Breakfast With Amy’s music was equal parts interesting and entertaining, a verified CCM sideshow that was high on fun and big on 60’s-style freakouts.

And it worked. Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing was a great debut the Amy’s. Dad picked up where the debut left off, and was how about that absolutely killer album cover? And how about Mermelstein And The Disappearing Sink? It’s one of the freakiest songs the band ever recorded, but it’s spectacular, a mash up of various people talking Jesus stuff to fuzzed-out guitar rock. The Amy’s then rush headlong into Ad America, another great solid track with (surprise!) harmony in the chorus. Sea Shanty could be dubbed Mermelstein And The Disappearing Sink Part II. It’s good, but we’ve heard it before.

I’m a huge Breakfast With Amy fan, and while Dad is a good record, it does lag in spots. For sure, though, the band’s body of work is super good. Make sure to check out Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt and Love Gift . The trio of records are fun, funky and really put the “alternative” in alternative music.

TRACKS:

1. Me
2. Tell Mama
3. You
4. And So It Goes
5. Mermelstein And The Disappearing Sink
6. Ad America
7. The Short Happy Life Of Henrietta
8. Your Name
9. You’re Soaking In It
10. Sea Shanty Of An Icelandic Midwife
11. Come On, Joan

LISTEN HERE:

http://grooveshark.com/#!/album/Dad/4128281