Music Review: DANIEL AMOS – Vox Humana

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daniel amos vox humanaDANIEL AMOS
Vox Humana
Refuge Records
1984

It’s funny what you tend to run into at local small town thrift stores. For instance, I was looking around a small second-hand thrift store in a town called Oakland here in Nebraska, and among the odds and ends and various other nick-knacks abounding, I spotted in a box of stuff a CD copy of Daniel Amos’ sixth release, Vox Humana, which I purchased for a mere $.50. For those curious, this was the 1992 CD release from Refuge Records, as previously the album was only released on LP and cassette formats. Pretty good condition, nary a scratch on it. The cover booklet was what you would call bare bones, but I really couldn’t complain.

Anyway, Vox Humana, compared to the preceding two releases, is more of an electronic synthesizer-driven New Wave album, with flourishes of the kind of musical creativity that you would come to expect from Daniel Amos. I wonder if they chose the more synthetic style of instrumentation here as a kind of commentary on the plastic-ness of the culture at the time of the early-to-mid 1980s. Or, maybe I’m just reading too much into something that wasn’t the intention. I tend to do that sometimes. As such, though, this results in Vox Humana not exactly being a frequent player in my album list.

Don’t get me wrong, as a New Wave album, Vox Humana is a good, solid release. Things kick off with “Travelog”, a bit of a dark, mid-paced tune with a driving beat and a spacey feel to it. This is followed by “(It’s The Eighties, So Where’s Our) Rocket Packs”, the structure of which reminds me strongly of The Buggle’s song “Video Killed The Radio Star”. One thing I’ll give this album, the songs at least maintain the varying structures and craft that Daniel Amos excels at, like with the plastic calypso of “Home Permanent”, the quirky rockabilly of “It’s Sick”, and the driving punkish “Dance Stop”, which is a popular crowd participation song when played live, I’m told. “Live And Let Live” has great Beatles-esque melodies and a psychedelic vibe, whereas the followup to that is the skipable ballad “When Worlds Collide”. “As the World Turns”, “She’s All Heart” and “The Incredible Shrinking Man” all maintain the catchy pop hooks. The album ends with one of my all-time favorite songs, “Sanctuary”, kind of a dark, almost 80s Gothic style song that always gets me in the feels.

As I mentioned, Vox Humana is a good, solid release from Daniel Amos; it’s just that I’m not necessarily in the mood for New Wave as much to listen to this one too frequently. There are some cuts on here that I do enjoy more than others. The production of my copy, which I presume was from the original mix that Refuge put out, is decent, if a bit thin at times. In 2016, Stunt Records released a remastered two-disc special edition, so if you’re wanting to check this out, I would try and get that one.

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Music Review: DANIEL AMOS – Doppelganger

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daniel amos doppelgangerDANIEL AMOS
Doppelganger
Alarma Records
1983

Daniel Amos’ fifth release continues the overall Alarma Chronicles concept, something that I still have no idea what the story itself entails. But, at least the second part itself, Doppelganger, is a rather good entry in the series. Also, it’s a great classic New Wave record in its own right, methinks.

Having a bit of a darker tone than that of the previous release, Doppelganger nonetheless manages to maintain the high quality musicianship and writing, putting out a very detailed and multi-textured album, filled with some of the best writing going as well as showcasing the bent sense of humor the band was famous for. If that wasn’t evident by the album cover–a slightly unsettling monochrome image of a mannequin–then you’re not paying attention.

The album itself kicks off with a brief yet mind-twisting intro “Hollow Man”, played backwards with spoken words and an avant-garde bent, which leads into the first proper cut of the album, “Mall (All Over The World)”, which is an infectious and dark New Wave cut with a funky bass hook that will get into your head like none other, there. “Real Girls”, “Memory Lane”, and “I Didn’t Build It For Me” feature that kind of New Wave style, yes; but like with their previous releases, the band branched off into other styles while keeping things unmistakably their own: “New Car!” has a cool rockabilly style, almost psycho-billy in a way before that became a thing; “Do Big Boys Cry?” isn’t necessarily a ballad, but it comes close; “Youth With A Machine” and “Little Crosses” are guitar-driven with some good hooks, while “The Double” and “Angels Tuck You In” are more janglepop, with the later having a classic Elvis Costello vibe to it. “Distance And Direction” has a Caribbean vibe to it that reminds me of another song from that time, the title of which escapes me greatly; “Autographs For The Sick” is another avant-garde tongue-in-cheek spoken word bit over ambient played music; the final song, “Here I Am”, has a very Beatles-esque somber-brite quality that just burrows down into your brain and will have you whistling it absently long after the record ends on the second part of the “Hollow Man” intro.

So, as I’m coming to understand the further I look into the Daniel Amos discography, you can’t just casually throw on a Daniel Amos record in the background and leave it; Doppelganger as an ablum begs to be listened to, closely, to take in the various textures and layers and lyrical play melded together into a whole. The production is fantastic, and you can tell a lot of time and careful crafting went into the making of this. I’m just now beginning to realize why the band ranks so high on everyone’s list of influential Christian bands. This release comes highly recommended.

Music Review: DANIEL AMOS – ¡Alarma!

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1-27 - Music Review: DANIEL AMOS - Alarma!

DANIEL AMOS
¡Alarma!
NewPax Records
1981

¡Alarma! is the fourth studio album by Daniel Amos, this one on Gary S. Paxton’s label NewPax in 1981. As you may or may not recall in discussing the history of the previous release, Horendous Disc, in that review, Larry Norman had all but held that album hostage, keeping it from its original 1978 release, and only releasing it mere weeks before the release of ¡Alarma! because…reasons. That guy was a bit off, it seems. And while Horrendous Disc was definitely a Beatles/Steely Dan/Eagles classic rock style album, ¡Alarma! sees Daniel Amos first steps in the style that they’re most remembered for: early Alternative Rock. In this instance, heavy on the New Wave.

Since it’s technically a part of the core of the release, I’m going to briefly mention the ¡Alarma! Chronicles, which ties into this and the three releases following this. Apparently, it’s a story that involves four parts, the first one included with this release. I have no idea what the story is about, really; I don’t have the vinyl insert anymore, and while I understand that the entire story was reprinted in a 200-page hardcover book, along with remastered re-releases of the four albums that are associated with it, I really have no desire to purchase it. And, for the life of me, no one will tell me what that story is about. If anyone can let me in on the big secret, that would be nifty. Anyway…

As I mentioned, ¡Alarma! can very much be classified as “New Wave”, but like the previous releases, you can’t really fit them comfortably within just the general descriptor. There are times where they have a nice Police vibe, other times they’re evoking the spirit of The Pretenders. There’s some quirky experimental stuff akin to The Talking Heads, while at other times the upbeat punkiness of Elvis Costello comes out and plays. I can tell you that the musicianship on the album is very well played, and I realize that to say it’s “quirky” is really doing it a disservice; understand, as primarily a despised \,,/METALHEAD\,,/, I too find the music on this album oddly catchy and rather hard to stop listening to.

The album draws you in with the opening “Central Theme”, where Terry Scott Taylor’s vocal styles makes you think of Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson if he decided to go for more British pop rather than prog rock. It’s very distinctive and part of Daniel Amos’ hook, which comes in handy as a way to deliver some of the smartest lyrics you’ll ever here delivered from the speakers (see what I did there?). “Props” has a kind of Beatles 60s jangle pop vibe to it; “Endless Summer” has kind of a surfer theme going for it, and “Walls Of Doubt” is probably the closest you will come to a CCM single you’ll find, in case you were curious. The whole thing ends on a rather dark and haunting note with “Ghosts Of The Heart”.

For the most part, ¡Alarma! is a very well-produced and solid collection of early Alternative Rock that was rather ahead of its time. At least, in the sense of the Christian Market. I think I’m beginning to understand the hype. I may have to start listening to the other albums in their discography now. Recommended.

Music Review: QUICK FLIGHT – Breakaway

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quick flight - breakaway
QUICK FLIGHT
Breakaway
Tunesmith Records
1980

Really cheesy and bad new wave that sounds like the members got their instruments on wholesale from the Radio Shack corporation. Lyrics are either straight-forward Christian, or use aliens as a Christ-centric analogy. Too embarrassing to listen to, really…

Music Review: ANDY McCARROLL + MORAL SUPORT – Zionic Bonds

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andy mccarroll + moral suport - zionic bonds
ANDY McCARROLL + MORAL SUPPORT
Zionic Bonds
Pilgrim America
1980

Irish new wave act that, to my knowledge, only released one album in the very early 80s. The sound is like if the Proclaimers decided to try to sound like The Clash. Really, despite the rather cheesy album artwork (which was the norm in that era, so you can’t really fault them for it; interestingly enough, back then that cover would have been considered “cutting edge” in the Christian market), the songs aren’t too bad, retaining a raw sound in the mix. About the only annoying thing I could think of (beyond the album art) was the vocalist. He sounds too much like a Leprechaun. Seriously, it’s a bit helium pitched. Otherwise, fairly surprised with this early 80s rock album…

Music Review: STEVE TAYLOR – Now The Truth Can Be Told

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Steve Taylor - Now The Truth Can Be Told
STEVE TAYLOR
Now The Truth Can Be Told
Sparrow
1994

Now The Truth Can Be Told is a two-disc retrospective boxed set that has a pretty good career-spanning track selection; tracing Steve Taylor’s start as a New Wave performer through to his evolution into alternative retro rock artist.

Included on this boxed set are cuts from his solo albums I Want To Be A Clone, Meltdown, On The Fritz and I Predict 1990, as well as the live album Limelight, a couple of cuts recorded for the first “best-of” album, his contribution to a Christmas album which features a mariachi backup band, cuts from his stint with Chagall Guevara, a full demo song, and a medley of early demo versions of his classics. Yeah, it’s a pretty good selection of Steve Taylor goodness, there.

Included with the boxed set is a booklet featuring a song-by-song commentary by Steve Taylor himself. It’s some very interesting and amusing insightful stuff, putting an added touch to the experience. Yes, I used the word “experience.” Because that’s what listening to Steve Taylor is.

Two discs, 34 tracks, and reminiscing by the master himself, I would say obtaining a copy of Now The Truth Can Be Told is a very good way to introduce yourself to the artist known as Steve Taylor.

Music Review: STEVE TAYLOR – I Want To Be A Clone

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Steve Taylor - I Want To Be a Clone

STEVE TAYLOR
I Want To Be A Clone!
Sparrow
1983

In terms of CCM rock history, Steve Taylor was an anomaly. A much welcome anomaly. Managing to be cutting-edge, profound, intelligent and satirical in this market is not for the faint of heart. Steve Taylor not only managed to pull it off, but did so in a way that made it seem easy. For that, I love him. In that non-creepy fanboy way. Okay, maybe a little creepy.

Steve Taylor’s debut release in 1983 was a six-song EP of New Wave rock that was not only cutting edge musically at the time, but also packed an explosive amount of lyrical intelligence, taking biting satirical swipes at society and Christianity that made you laugh and think at the same time. Almost the entire album is classic Steve Taylor, with perhaps “Written Guarantee” my least favorite of the six.

The music may be dated, but I Want To Be A Clone! is Devo-level fun. Highly collectible, I’d recommend picking this up on whatever format you can find this on.

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