“Horrendous Disc” Rerelease Isn’t, But It Isn’t Great

For those whose memory of Christian rock spans further back than, say, Switchfoot, Horrendous Disc by Daniel Amos holds a special place. Few albums have ever been as controversy-raising without actually being released, as for three years debate raged on multiple fronts as to why the album, originally planned for a 1978 debut, didn’t see the light of retail day until 1981, finally hitting the shelves a whole six weeks before the band’s fourth album ¡Alarma! announced its complete transformation from country/rock ensemble to new wave edgemeisters. Horrendous Disc was a bridge between the two; while not entirely abandoning the softer melodic side of Daniel Amos’ eponymous debut or followup Shotgun Angel, it also discarded the country flavor of these releases in favor of an ofttimes Beatlesesque rock vibe. Not a lot of fans remained faithful during these artistic twists, but for those who did, or who came on board when the twang was traded for thunder, Horrendous Disc was sweet meat indeed.

Fast forward four decades or so, and has become the wont of many Christian classic rock albums Horrendous Disc has been given the remastered rerelease treatment. This time through, the project’s popularity was such that additional items kept being added to the available versions. True to the album’s spirit, the project was a year late in release. It is now here, though, which is a good thing. Unfortunately, it is perilously close to being far too much of a good thing.

Starting with the album itself, the remastered sound is packed with power. The late Mike Stone, who produced the original recordings, did a masterful job of capturing the band at full throttle, giving everything a crisp, deep, rich sheen. While parts of the album have not aged well, particularly, with the exception of the title track, all of the second side which suffers from hewing too closely to the aforementioned Beatlesesque influence at the expense of strong tunemanship, overall Horrendous Disc is still well worth a listen.

Where things start noticeably fraying is in the bonus material, which in addition to the usual alternate takes and such of known songs includes a bumper crop of songs recorded throughout the time period when Horrendous Disc sat in mystery-shrouded limbo. There are also two songs recorded during the album’s original sessions that were dropped prior to its eventual release. Finally having these long rumored but never heard twenty tracks available is a joy. The problem is they reveal a band in transition that would not regain its full stride until the transition was complete. The songs individually and collectively are okay, but Daniel Amos whenever it was riding high — which was most of the time — wasn’t okay. It was brilliant. The newly released material is interesting historically and definitely not unlistenable, but it’s far from showcasing the band at its best.

It seems strange to think a set of five CDs could be missing several possible configurations and songs, yet the compilation left more than a few moments that could have, and should have, been included either scattered hither and yon or on the table altogether. Ranging from elusive to absent altogether are such items as all of the original mix versions Mike Stone assembled for the album, all of the track variations that appeared on the original US, Canadian, and British releases, and everything planned for unreleased projects such as an 1979 EP entitled Pointless Blazing Wrath. As exhaustive as the compilation is, having these items missing is quite frustrating.

In addition to a lengthy CD booklet, a companion book titled (what else?) Horrendous Book is available. The book does a good job covering the basic facts regarding the album and assorted struggles that delayed its release, but suffers from weak graphic design and a painfully obvious lack of proofreading. A personal note: while I can and do mangle the written language on a regular basis, I am very good at proofreading the work of others. Also, I’m in no way knocking John J. Thompson, Bruce Brown, or Brian Quincy Newcomb, each of whom penned essays for the CD booklet. They were all vital parts of Christian music journalism’s early days. But I can write a little too, and I also was there. How about asking me to contribute something once in a while, people? Okay, got that off my chest; back to the review.

The final element is the project packaging. The discs come in individual cardboard sleeves contained inside an oversized box that also includes individual band member photos taken during a time when Daniel Amos utilized satirical costumes as part of its assault on religious cults. It’s nice, but for archival reasons it would have been preferable to have the discs housed in digipacks for better protection and the box replaced by a open-ended version in which all the digipacks would snugly fit.

It’s not that the Horrendous Disc release is bad. It’s not. It is a mammoth effort and something over which all Christian rock fans young and old can, and should, rejoice. However, in its mammoth approach it missed several opportunities to be truly great. Sure beats not having it at all, though.

Cephas Hour on BlackLight Radio
Volume CXLIII
(Air Date: July 1, 2018)

Now here’s a novel concept — a regular show! Haven’t done one of these in a while. Hope you enjoy it.

A Sentimental Song The Choir
Rubber Canoe Benny Hester
The Wall Phil Keaggy
40 Watt City JAG
Thunder Beach Crumbächer
Fast Forward Prodigal
Turn A Blind Eye The Call
Who’s Who Here Daniel Amos
Perfect Blues 77s
Pimps And Preachers Veil
Meant To Live Switchfoot
Flood Jars Of Clay
Come For The Children Oden Fong

Cephas Hour on BlackLight Radio
Volume CXLII
(Air Date: June 13, 2018)

Making a brief detour from my usual alt fare to feature Petra this time through (I know, that should be for a DeGarmo and Key show). Love them or no, there is no denying that within the Christian music world — I’m leaving U2 out of the equation as they have never operated within CCM — no band has done as much to legitimize rock as a viable, church-acceptable format as Petra.

Jekyll And Hyde Petra
God Gave Rock And Roll To You Petra
Beat The System Petra
Not By Sight Petra
Without Him We Can Do Nothing Petra
Bema Seat Petra
Judas Kiss Petra
Grave Robber Petra
Beyond Belief Petra
Dance Petra
Chameleon Petra
Stand Up Petra
Praise Ye The Lord Petra
Rose Colored Stained Glass Windows Petra

“Bloodshot” by The Choir Deeply Satisfies

(This post originally appeared on Goldfish and Clowns.)

It’s difficult to envision veteran Christian alt rockers The Choir being in the company of country artists back when it was barely out of its teens, a time finding artists such as The Carter Family, Bob Willis, and Bill Monroe routinely crisscrossing the country planting seeds of a genre they created. Also, it’s not that Bloodshot, The Choir’s new album, is in any sense a country album. However, there is a common thread; more on this in a bit.

Throughout its career The Choir has with graceful ease traversed between atmospheric and near avant-garde, musically built around Derri Daugherty’s sometimes dreamy and at other moments razor slice guitar while Steve Hindalong’s lyrics have purposefully plumbed relationships, life fragments, and faith through a poet’s eyes. In this respect Bloodshot is no different than its predecessors. The Choir have for decades made extremely even albums, never failing to deliver something solid wrapped within textural diversity. Bloodshot, however, has some twists revealing Messrs. Daugherty and Hindalong, plus Tim Chandler on bass and Dan Michaels on assorted reed instruments, are still more than capable of bringing something new to the turntable.

Bloodshot is in many ways the most straightforward album The Choir has ever recorded. Not that the music is an exercise in formulaic commercial ear candy; rather, the songs are simpler without being simplistic: more direct, more immediately accessible. Daugherty frequently employs strummed chords as a foundation upon which to bounce his effects-rich electric work, using it to create far more guitar interplay than is present in most Choir efforts. Even when there is but one guitar present, Daugherty accomplishes the rare feat of creating multiple sound swirls dancing around each other, always perfectly meshed within the song in lieu of drawing attention to themselves alone.

The album also differs lyrically from the majority of prior albums in that it is far more heavily relationship-focused. Not that faith is being dismissed, but on Bloodshot Hindalong is at his most playful and celebratory of love between two people. This is the album you play for those who deride Christian music as bereft of romance.

Where the album harkens back to country’s emerging years is in its songs at their core. They are solid, uncomplicated, and tuneful; the essence of country long before it went cosmopolitan. It is not difficult to hear the compositions and picture them coming out of a dome-shaped AM radio, performed by a small acoustic ensemble in some station’s studio designed for live music. Whether this is intentional or unplanned is something only The Choir can answer, but regardless it is there.

It’s easy, and sadly all too common, for an established band to trot out the same ol’ same ol’ album after album, knowing this will satisfy the vast majority of their audience. The Choir think and act differently. Bloodshot isn’t a radical departure, but rather a superb exploration of songs and sounds fused together, creating a record that’s memorable for all the right reasons.

The album is available for preorder on iTunes.

Cephas Hour on BlackLight Radio
Volume CXLI
(Air Date: May 16, 2018)

You want to hear Bloodshot, the new album by The Choir, don’t you? Well, here you go, with classic Choir tracks starting and finishing the show. Enjoy!

That Melancholy Ghost The Choir
Bloodshot Eyes The Choir
Californians on Ice The Choir
Summer Rain The Choir
Birds Bewildered The Choir
Only Reasons The Choir
House of Blues The Choir
The Dizzy Wounded The Choir
Because You’re Beautiful The Choir
The Way You Always Are The Choir
Magic The Choir
We’ve Got The Moon The Choir
The Time Has Come The Choir
She’s Alright The Choir
Mercy Will Prevail The Choir

The Devil and Larry Norman

Sipping whisky from a paper cup
You drown your sorrows ‘til you can’t stand up
Take a look at what you’ve done to yourself
Why don’t you put the bottle back on the shelf
Shooting junk ‘til you’re half insane
A broken needle in a purple vein
Why don’t you look into Jesus
He’s got the answer

 

from “Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus” by Larry Norman

 

On “Center Of My Heart,” a song from Tourniquet which was Larry Norman’s final studio album before he passed away ten years ago, he included the line “I’m a walking contradiction.” After reading Gregory Alan Thornbury’s Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock, it’s obvious truer words have seldom been spoken.

Thornbury’s biography of Larry Norman, Christian rock’s founding father in the 1960s and most polarizing figure to this day, is a fascinating and sobering look at the life of a man almost perpetually surrounded by controversy. Much of it was Norman’s own doing, intentional or no; his incessant need to be in control and insistence on being a lone wolf utterly convinced of his selected path’s correctness often frayed and sometimes shattered relationships both professional and personal. Yet, he could also be generous to a fault with his time, money, and talents. He was also a brilliant songwriter and performer, penning and recording work that remains stunningly powerful and genuinely life-changing for those who have ears to hear.

Norman, to quote from a song by Mark Heard whose early career was directly influenced by Norman, was too sacred for the sinners and the saints wished he’d leave. The former were often off-put by Norman’s frequent references to Christ crucified and risen, while the latter routinely freaked out over his mixing straightforward love and political songs, plus generous use of allegory and parable, into his body of work. Norman didn’t care. It was his vision, done his way, take it or leave it.

The book does an excellent job in painting the backdrop for Norman’s life and times, managing the not inconsiderable feat of detailing such elements as the Jesus People movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s in a manner both informative to the uninitiated and not dreary for those already in the know. Some biographers tell a tale of life well; others specialize in times. Thornbury does both well.

Thornbury mentions more than once how Norman in concert sought not to entertain, but rather to challenge his audience, having no hesitation about making it feel uncomfortable through in-between song musings as well as in the songs themselves. He posed questions about faith and how believers should conduct themselves in the world, detailing the need to demolish the Christian ghetto and actually be in the world but not of it. Norman was simultaneously icon and iconoclast, the one without whom most every contemporary Christian artists would not be there while at the same time asking what they were doing there, as they were neither witnessing to non-believers nor edifying those who were already Christians.

The book is unflinching in its examination of Norman and those around him; his first wife Pamela and his early protege Randy Stonehill both come off quite poorly. However, the book also tosses bouquets as easily as it does brickbats. It is no hatchet job designed to speak maximum ill of the dead or the living. In lieu thereof it is, as best as Norman can be capsulated, a multi-level study of a multi-level man who won friends, made enemies, influenced many far more than they are willing to admit, and left it for others to argue about as he decidedly did it his way. If you love Larry Norman, or have no idea who he was, Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock is enriching reading that, even as Norman did with his work, forces reflection.

The book is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Cephas Hour on BlackLight Radio
Volume CXL
(Air Date: March 21, 2018)

Here’s the playlist for the latest episode (air date March 21, 2018). It’s a compilation piecing together, based on currently available information, the original (or at least intended original) running order for So Long Ago The Garden by Larry Norman. Source of said information is this image, recently posted on Facebook’s Larry Norman page:

And before you ask, yes I know that during the show I give the incorrect original release year for the album. It first came out in 1973, not 1974. Oops. I also apologize for my voiceovers being on the near-mumbled side of things. A bit run down when I recorded this. It’s about the music anyway.

I Hope I’ll See You In Heaven Larry Norman
If God Is My Father Larry Norman
It’s The Same Old Story Larry Norman
Lonely By Myself Larry Norman
Be Careful What You Sign Larry Norman
Baroquen Spirits Larry Norman
Righteous Rocker #2 Larry Norman
Butterfly Larry Norman
She’s A Dancer Larry Norman
Soul Survivor Larry Norman
Kulderachna Larry Norman
Nightmare Larry Norman
I Am A Servant Larry Norman

More Exciting Site Notes

As I slowly but … well, slowly piece this site together by posting show links and such, a few things to look for. Other than typos, wrong links, and all such related gaffes I know full well will happen.

In the “in process for existing posts” department, I’m adding a link to each artist’s name for their website, if they have one, or Facebook page. Not everyone has an official page, so in some cases it is to a Facebook fan page. In other cases the link is for one member only; for example, Vector links to Jimmy Abegg’s website, and Undercover links to original lead singer Bill Walden’s Facebook page for his current musical project with singer Allie Hammond. Not all of the posts are updated yet, so please bear with.

One of the advantages of using WordPress is the ability to backdate posts. Thus, I’m making each post’s publication date the day it first aired on BlackLight Radio. This keeps things in order.

You say you want to find every single show that has a particular artist? Scroll down to the bottom of any given post and look for the tags, which has all the artists listed from said show. Click on your artist of choice and you’ll get a page listing every show in which they appear.

And back to work I go.