The latest part of the ongoing series chronicling, in no particular order, the greatest 1001 recordings made by Christian artists
Continued from page 10
113. ROY ACUFF AND THE SMOKY MOUNTAIN BOYS - THE WRECK ON THE
HIGHWAY, 1942. From the various artists album 'The Golden Age Of
Recorded in 1942 and still able to produce goose pimples. Country and western had always loved lurid narratives of death, but this story in song about discovering blood and wrecked vehicles in a highway motor accident finds its focus in the poignant refrain "but I didn't hear nobody pray." In all the carnage and groans of despair nobody, the singer recounts, thought to pray to God. In the hands of lesser country singers this country evergreen becomes a wallow in maudlin sentimentality. In Mr Acuff's assured hands it is one of the most moving listening experiences in the long history of country music.
114. RUSS TAFF - MEDALS, 1985. From the album 'Medals',
Russ has rather discounted his early pop-gospel albums in favour of his recent discovery of his Southern roots but for me this is still a wheezingly, searingly soulful and impassioned performance as it ebbs and flows in a surge of energy, power chords and orchestrated drama while the lyric is one of the finest ever produced out of Nashville's CCM hit factory.
115. LESLIE PHILLIPS - HOURGLASS, 1985. From the album 'Beyond
Saturday Night', Myrrh.
When Leslie played her first UK gig at Finchley Baptist Church there were less than 50 people in the audience. That night she sang her material from this fine album debut and showed herself to be one of the finest voices in Christian music. This track, despite its slightly routine arrangement, has passion and faith and keeps me returning to it.
116. AMY GRANT - IN A LITTLE WHILE, 1982. From the album 'Age
To Age', Myrrh.
Great pop songs of faith are rare indeed but Amy sang an absolute classic with this simple tale of faith in the banality of modern life. That line about scattering junk mail on the floor is still one of the most memorable in CCM while that bitter/sweet voice has never sounded more poignant.
117. SHATTOCK AND RUST - ELECTION DAY, 1989. From the album
'The Rock Beneath', independent.
Great songs don't need great recording budgets to show their quality. Godfrey Rust is probably best known to Joe Punter as a poet whose book 'Breaking The Chains' was recently in the Christian best sellers. But he's also a consummate lyricist and OK singer in the pop-folk Simon And Garfunkel mould. The song, a so-clever number which uses all the imagery and paraphernalia of a political election to make an incisive spiritual point is an absolute gem. Its astutely crafted lyric shows that all those banal 'Jesus died for me at Calvary' songs circulating around Christendom claiming to be 'biblical' are in fact merely lyrics by people who haven't developed the skills of top quality lyric writing.
118. LCGC - KNOCKIN' ON HEAVEN'S DOOR, 1993. From the album
'Hush And Listen', Permanent.
It's funny, until this album I'd never realised the quality of Bazil Meade's voice, thinking of the man primarily as a choir leader extraordinaire. But here Baz delivers what for me is one of the most thrilling soulful lead vocals I've heard. The song was always a classic; I loved it when Dylan sang it in 'Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid' and when Mike Peters sang it to a rapturous crowd in Greenbelt's Big Top. But it took that element of soul, with Bazil's husky multi-tracked lead teasing the last bit of poignancy out of the melody and the choir coming in with some soulful humming to reduce my knees to jelly.
119. MOLLY O'DAY AND THE CUMBERLAND MOUNTAIN FOLKS - WHEN GOD
COMES AND GATHERS HIS JEWELS, 1946. From the various artists album
'The Golden Age Of Country', Capitol.
What do Prince and Hank Williams have in common? They both wrote superlative gospel songs (eg, Prince's "The Cross", Hank's "Are You Walking And A Talking With The Lord" and this gem) while tragically failing to put their words into action and live the Christian life. This wonderful version was recorded in 1946 but still sparkles with the freshness of an Appalachian mountain stream.
120. OUT OF THE GREY - THREE
BEAUTIFUL WORDS, 1992. From the various artists album 'Coram Deo',
It was Charlie Peacock's superlative 'Coram Deo' praise and worship concept album that convinced me that Christine Dente of Out Of The Grey was more than another good American vocalist, but a great one. Here she sings an exceptionally beautiful song on forgiveness with the simplest of acoustic accompaniments.
As published in CR16, 1st August 1993
121. VEIL OF ASHES - SUICIDE, 1990. From the album 'Pain', Graceland.
Christendom's rad rockers largely missed this wonderful album produced by Adam Again's main man Gene Eugene. A shame as this dark, sombre rock album with a musical approach one part The Alarm, one part The Cult and one part sheer originality, Veil Of Ashes were some band. On this astonishing cut, lead vocalist Sean Doty pours out his soul over a stark, eerie accompaniment. Apparently, Sean lost a friend to suicide and the repeated line "I had a friend" is an unforgettable, sad listening experience.
122. ADRIAN SNELL (with Phil Thomson and Caroline Bonnett) -
BEAUTIFUL, 1993. From the album 'Beautiful...Or What?!',
Well, it had to happen sooner or later, some astute Cross Rhythms reader has sussed that the inclusion of new album tracks in the SORAS listing means that all the 1001 greats aren't written in stone but rather the listing is...er...fluid. Still, that gives me a chance to say to the three Cross Rhythms readers left who aren't utterly sick of me wittering on about "Beautiful", that this is one of the most poignant and artfully crafted marriages of melody, lyric and arrangement you're ever going to hear. Not a Jesus, JESUS, JESUS! song, rather an exquisite, haunting expression, through the images of a tossed and torn rag doll, of the pain and doubt within the human soul when our very right to exist is questioned. And over this haunting song the assurance that in the sight of God his people are of infinite worth and beauty hovers unspoken, unsung but transparent. Adrian, Phil, Caroline et al have created a timeless classic.
123. RAGE OF ANGELS - SOMEBODY'S WATCHING YOU, 1991. From the
album 'Rage Of Angels', Regency.
Vocalist Dan Mariano shrieks, with the rasping rawness of rockdom's Hall Of Fame, the twin lead guitar attack of Greg Kurtzman and Frank DiCostanzo shreds every ear lobe within half a mile and the whole think stays so heavy that you may need a fork lift to get the album onto your record decks. Careering like an out-of-control locomotive it thunders along its track leaving the listener exhilarated and energised. Metal remains a mystery to the uninitiated, a wanton cacophony of non-music, but for those with the metabolism to take their rock neat with no tonic, this is the stuff to bring tears to the eyes and fire to the spirit.
124. JEFFREY LAMS/KENNETH NASH - ABRAHAM'S THEME, 1985. From
the album 'A Time For Peace', Colours.
Not the Abraham who was once asked to sacrifice his son on the altar (read the book for the gripping conclusion) but the Abraham who was a Jewish athlete who ran for Britain in the same Olympics as another famous athlete, Eric Liddle. Yep, you got it, 'Chariots Of Fire'. So can Vangelis' haunting film theme be truly considered 'Christian music' even when performed by three Californian believers (Jeffrey Lams piano, Frank Martin synthesizer, Kenneth Nash percussion/producer)? So does instrumental music have any place in a 'Christian music' listing? I suppose one of the advantages of a project like SORAS is that in the words of some bard 'if you makes the game you makes the rules', so Cummings says this is a Christian music classic. It certainly is a rendition that consistently brings a tranquillity to my spirit while those descending minor chords on the concert grande quite eclipsing Vangelis' original. Classic ambient music and the silly-billy who put together the recent 'Candlelight Colours' compilation and left off this long-deleted classic needs our prayers.
125. REYNARD - ABRAHAM AND ISAAC, 1976. From the album
'Pilgrim Music', Sharon,.
Now this song DOES feature the Abraham who was once asked to sacrifice his son on the altar. And what a gem it is too. A few years back a fanatical CCM record collector from Finland (they do exist!) to whom I was selling large piles of old Christian music albums offered me an arm and a leg for the Reynard album 'Fresh From The Earth'. I had to confess that not only did I not possess a copy I'd never heard of it. Years later I was travelling in a car with Metal Meltdown organiser Dave Williams when I almost made him crash the car in my astonishment that the music coming from Dave's car cassette was (a) a long, long way from the mosh pit (Dave was managing Seventh Angel at the time) and (b) was the said 'Fresh From The Earth' album. And it was truly wonderful, real English folk music with a touch of '70s pop rock update. It was my turn to offer an arm and a leg, but wise ol' Williams was not letting go of his Reynard rarity. Eventually, I found one track of said album on a Pilgrim Records sampler and when I'm not dancing round the front room to its delightful strains I'm writing open letters to anybody who knows where Reynard are today. For in today's climate of the acoustic revolution, these folk gospel pioneers should come creaking out of retirement to perform their danceable, joyful fusion music for a new generation of folk roots fans.
126. BISHOP SAMUEL KELSEY AND THE CONGREGATION, INEZ ANDREWS
AND THE ANDREWETTES, THE ORIGINAL FIVE BLIND BOYS OF MISSISSIPPI -
TELL ME HOW LONG THE TRAIN BEEN GONE, 1981. From the various artists
album 'The Famous Spiritual And Gospel Festival Of 1965',
Don't gasp at the credits; just remember black gospel's proud tradition of coming up with artist credits longer to read than the genealogies in Numbers. This is a wonderful, boisterous, sweating evocation of all that is exuberant, cathartic and soul cleansing in black church. It was recorded not in Chicago's Southside where Inez spread her Gospel message, not in Bishop Kelsey's Temple Church Of God In Christ in Washington DC, nor in the backwoods churches which Lloyd Lee Woodard of the Original Five Blind Boys evoked so soulfully, but somewhere very different. As the sleeve note says, "the hands which clapped to the beat of the gospel songs were white. The audience that spontaneously answered the question 'Do you feel alright?' with thrice repeated, enthusiastic 'Yes!' had come expecting not a church service but a concert. And yet that audience in the Glocke concert hall in Bremen was miraculously turned into one huge congregation, reacting to every word spoken or sung." The sound quality is a bit primitive, the gospel equivalent of a jam session obviously exudes a certain ramshackle spontaneity - but oh when Inez starts to soar, oh when the Blind Boys holler and scream, oh when the Spirit moves...