Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hold on Tight: 3oth Anniversary Edition - Sweet Comfort Band

Hold to Jesus and the music he inspired

Hold on Tight: 3oth Anniversary Edition
Artist: Sweet Comfort Band
Label: Retroactive Records (http://www.retroactiverecords/)
Length: 11 tracks/39:51 minutes

I welcome the opportunity to acquire early Christian music. Maybe it’s because it was the soundtrack for my beginning as a believer back in August 1976.

The Jesus music of the late seventies was part of a move of God among the counter-culture. Chuck Smith and Calvary Chapel were part of it. Sweet Comfort Band (SCB) was featured on some of the early Maranatha Music (Calvary’s label) collections.

Unlike many of their contemporaries who developed a folk-rock style, SCB also incorporated elements of funk, jazz and R&B. Those familiar with Bryan Duncan’s solo career can hear the roots of it here, as he wrote and sang lead on many of these songs.

Randy Thomas, who would go on to a career with the Christian band Allies, and later co-write the mega-hit “Butterfly Kisses” with Bob Carlisle (also former Allies), is another major contributor.

SCB released a total of six albums, five of them now available through Retroactive Records. If you like SCB or early Christian music, get them while you can. Judging from past reissues of Christian music, they may never be found again, unless they become available on iTunes. By the way, some of the early Jesus music not previously available, like The Way, Paul Clark, Gentle Faith and more, can now be found at iTunes.

Last month, Derek Walker, a fellow Phantom Tollbooth writer reviewed SCB’s Breakin’ the Ice. Check out the review as he did an excellent job of briefly summarizing how the five SCB reissues compare. I defer to his judgment that Hold on Tight, which followed Breakin’ the Ice, was a low point among the band’s releases. The latter being a high point.

Though Hold on Tight may have been less dynamic, there is plenty to like. “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me” is classic Bryan Duncan. It has that feel-good R&B vibe and lyrics that recall the words of the prophet Isaiah: “This people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Matt. 15:8 ESV). It’s written from God’s point of view: Don’t sing me your songs and tell me you love me, if you won’t give me your heart.

Several tracks including the aforementioned contain horns from Seawind, another early Christian group, and even strings. This, along with the style and musicianship, make this more mature musically then many of the early Christian recordings.

The harmonies and vocals are great. Three of the four band members contribute. Richie Furay sings background vocals on “Carry Me,” another highlight, and has the first guitar solo.

Early Christian music could sometimes suffer artistically from being too message-driven, but that emphasis can also be endearing. Jesus music artists were foolish enough to believe that God could use the lyrical content of their songs; their pointed messages are a refreshing contrast to the vagueness that has become more prevalent. Some of the songs on this CD are aimed at those searching for the truth; others encourage perseverance and not letting go of faith, as in the title track, “Hold on Tight.”

There is a simplicity and first-love kind of spirit in early Jesus music. Some of that spirit animates these songs. It’s worth hearing, and perhaps those of us who are Christians can consider how we can recapture some of that childlike faith and wonder, if we have let it slip away. I’m glad to have this early document from one of Christian music’s most popular bands.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Go Tell Somebody (Limited Edition – Remastered) - Commissioned

Timeless truths make this still relevant today

Go Tell Somebody (Limited Edition – Remastered)
Artist: Commissioned
Label: Retroactive Records
Length: 8 tracks/37:47 minutes

Listening to Go Tell Somebody by Commissioned helps to rectify a deficiency in my knowledge of Christian music. Having been raised on pop and rock, my early exposure to gospel music did not go much beyond hearing Andre Crouch & the Disciples. That was in the late 1970’s.

In 1982, six guys from Detroit, including gospel luminary Fred Hammond, formed Commissioned. The group recorded 11 albums between 1984 and 2002. Among the lineup changes along the way was the addition of another widely-recognized gospel artist, Marvin Sapp, in 1991.

Go Tell Somebody (1986) was the group’s second release on Light Records, which reached number two on Billboard’s Top Gospel Albums list. It fuses R&B, traditional gospel, 80’s pop, and a little funk and inspirational, with passionate vocals and smooth harmonizing.

The stated purpose of the recording is to uplift listeners and let them know that no weapon formed against them will prosper. The group succeeds admirably with lyrics that reflect a mature Christian perspective that is uncommonly bold and informed by Scripture. “Who Do Men Say I Am” has a grand, epic vibe ending with references from Isaiah 53. “Go Tell Somebody” encourages continually thinking about the lost. “Love Isn’t Love” features smooth as silk vocals reminding us that we have not loved until we have helped someone else.

The solid, spiritual truths surpass much of what you hear today. This will especially appeal to those who like music with substance.

Even with the remastering, the music sounds a little dated, which is to be expected on a recording more than 20 years old. Overall, it holds up well in part because the R&B/gospel style may be more timeless than pop and rock. The arrangements and production are also excellent.

The catchy music and the timeless truths make this still relevant today.

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