One of the more lamentable traits of contemporary Christian music, as it moved from its 1960s counterculture roots into a more widely acceptable cosmopolitan form, has been record labels doing all they can to push new or existing artists into soundalike or even lookalike copies of recently successful secular artists or artistic genres. Examples abound: Bob Carlisle’s first post-Allies solo album which did everything to make him the born again soccer mom’s Michael Bolton except put him in a long-haired curly wig, the Christian boy band Plus One, and of more recent vintage Lauren Daigle’s “You Say,” a song for which the vocal, melody, and construction so heavily clone Adele’s “Someone Like You” one can only hope she at least received co-writing credit.
And then there was The 2nd Chapter of Acts, an act like no other in sacred or secular music. The intricate three part harmonies of the family Ward (sisters Annie Herring née Ward and Nelly Greisen née Ward alongside brother Matthew) occasionally conjured thoughts of Crosby Stills & Nash or more accurately late 1960s The Beach Boys, yet remained exclusively their own. Certainly Herring’s songwriting was like no other, loosely definable as pop/rock but replete with unique quirky yet unfailingly melodic twists and turns simultaneously accessible to mainstream music fans and lovers of original progressive rock; many a record collection of the day featured 2nd Chapter of Acts vinyl unashamedly nestled alongside the Yes and Gentle Giants platters obligatory to any adventurous music fan’s library. The 2nd Chapter of Acts invented themselves, and despite Herring’s comment to me during an interview back in the day that she preferred avoiding listening to much current music as she would find herself unintentionally mimicking same, they remained themselves until they called it a day in 1988, Herring and Ward subsequently pursuing solo efforts while Greisen, alongside her husband, chose church work.
In 1978, having already forever earned their place in Jesus Music history with two classic studio efforts (1974’s With Footnotes and 1975’s In The Volume Of The Book) plus two live releases (1975’s To The Bride, which featured Barry McGuire over the trio, and 1977’s How The West Was One which featured the trio over Phil Keaggy), 2nd Chapter of Acts decided to fully flex their creative muscle and tackle the equally fraught with peril and reward idiom of the concept album/rock opera. For source material, the trio chose C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe,” the first book in his beloved children’s septet The Chronicles of Narnia. As I recall, the music industry powers that be were not enamored with this, greatly preferring something more radio friendly unit shifter-oriented. Thus, The Roar Of Love remained on the shelf until 1980, with 1978’s superb Mansion Builder serving to keep the trio’s momentum uptempo before its release. Hindsight reveals there was no need for this delay.
While The Roar Of Love is not replete with individual highlights, it is a seamless, luxurious whole. Herring’s melodies dip and dance, always perfectly matching the sentiment expressed in whichever part of the story is being illustrated. The accompaniment should sound dated, yet it retains the timeless element skilled songwriting always brings to the table no matter the genre or time in which it is composed. It does help to know the story beforehand, but the album is thoroughly enjoyable regardless.
If The Roar Of Love has any major flaw, it stems from having been recorded ten years too early and/or one album too few. There are times one wishes for the extra time a CD or a double album would have allowed for further exploration of both musical and lyrical themes in lieu of trying to fit everything into a single vinyl disc. Tantalizing moments throughout cry out to be further fleshed out. Nevertheless, the record still deeply satisfies.
It’s not an inappropriate comparison to note that even as Shotgun Angel by Daniel Amos was CCM’s (or Jesus Music, as it was referred to back in the day) Sgt. Pepper’s, so The Roar of Love was its SMiLE minus Brian Wilson flipping out on LSD and, one can safely assume, no moments of Annie Herring needing to explain lyrics to her siblings unlike Wilson struggling to convince Mike Love of the reasoning behind “over and over the crow cries ‘uncover the cornfield.’” That, and it being industry reluctance keeping the record under wraps that prevented its timely release. Plus, unlike SMiLE The Roar Of Love was completed to the artists’ satisfaction, and Mansion Builder is ten to the power of ten times better than Smiley Smile. These facts duly noted, where the correlation lies is artistry given full rein with the reward being not self-indulgence, but something of immense value. The Roar Of Love is a mighty roar indeed.
The record is available for download from the artists’ website.