Music Review: DANIEL AMOS – Doppelganger

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daniel amos doppelgangerDANIEL AMOS
Alarma Records

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!

NewPax Records

¡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
Tunesmith Records

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
Zionic Bonds
Pilgrim America

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
Now The Truth Can Be Told

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

I Want To Be A Clone!

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.

Music Review: STEVE TAYLOR – The Best We Could Find (+ 3 That Never Escaped)

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Steve Taylor - The Best We Can Find

The Best We Could Find (+ 3 That Never Escaped)

When it comes to Best-Of collections gathering together the works of the woefully under-appreciated Steve Taylor, The Best We Could Find was a fairly decent effort put out by his former label Sparrow at the time.  This was released long before the Now The Truth Can Be Told collection, and shortly after he left Sparrow for a brief stint on Myrrh.  Probably another money grab, but at the time there were some definite goodies included on here.

First and foremost, the CD release featured the entire I Want To Be A Clone! EP, which was a pretty neat incentive to get the more costly of the three formats at the time.  I remember having just the cassette version back in the day, and when I located a CD copy I was stoked that the entire Clone EP was on there, as I only had that on a used cassette at the time as well.

Besides that and featuring cuts from the other studio albums (“Meltdown (At Madame Tussaud’s”, “Hero”, “Sin For A Season” and “Guilty By Association” from Meltdown; “To Forgive”, “On The Fritz” and “I Just Wanna Know” from On The Fritz), as well as the Transatlantic Remixes 12″ (“This Disco (Used To Be A Cute Cathedral)” remix), this collection includes the previously unreleased songs “Under The Blood”, “Down Under”, and “Bouquet”.  Considering that the only one of those three that didn’t make it on the Now The Truth Can Be Told boxed set was “Down Under”, that made The Best We Could Find an essential collector’s item for a bit.

And a collector’s item this thing is.  To be fair, The Best We Could Find, like any other “best-of” collection out there, seems to be a dying item in this day and age of digital music buys, and since all of Steve Taylor’s work is available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon as individual MP3 downloads at very decent prices, really the only reason to scope this one out is for the hardcore collectors who have to have the physical copy to display in their collection.  For me…well, I got it back before that kind of thing was even an option; otherwise, it’s worth checking out for a good introduction to Steve Taylor’s earlier career as an artist if you have nothing.  Otherwise, I’d say if you have the boxed set released in 1994, you’re good to go, really.