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MARCH / APRIL #88

MICHAEL KNOTT
THE LIFE OF DAVID
Metro One
The thing about prolific songwriters is that they tend to release more albums than they probably should, allowing for impulsive stinker songs to mix with crafted gems that could have been more patiently collected for a full, rich Long-Play savoring. Arguably, Elvis Costello hangs out in that camp; as does Lou Reed; as does the interminable Mike Knott. Maybe that's what 'best ofs' or 'greatest hits' CDs are for? Perhaps. But how much greater a piece when the “best of” collection is the culmination of a specific period-in-time's effort and expression. How much more enriching the painting versus the collage. There is a time and place for a landscape viewing of an artist's evolution, but such transcendence and mental juggling is for family reunions and the occasional photo album perusal. We live in the moment, and the moment is what we want, what we need to experience. The song of moment, the compilation of moments into periods – that is what we need, that is what we live – that is what is real. 'Best ofs' are fantasy at best. The LP, the full-length– this is real, and this is what should be made excellently – here, and now; not in a producer's coffer-filling retrospect. We need patient and selective album generation that represents itself with patience and selectivity.
. . .Blessedly, these songwriters of the prolific sort – these skilled, ingenious, capable makers of song and releasers of spirit – do appease us (the wanton, needy, clingy consumers) once in a while with an album that is not hurried, not slapped together, and not pearls mixed with swine sop – a full work of full songs. Hey, I realize that they have to eat. They have to crank the albums out. It is understandable that they would let unbalanced works slip through the market grill. We will buy them for the gold center. But give them the time. Give them the resources. Allow them to make what they want to make, and they will give us what we want. They will give us The Life of David, Mike Knott's tome of moment.
. . .Every song. Every song is rich. Every song is to be savored. Every song is crafted and lusciously layered with the same care as the one proceeding and following it – extensions of a thematic artery. LP ecstasy for our sticky, ungrateful, presumptuous fingers.
. . .Beginning with the morosely metaphoric "Cast Me Away," and shifting into an "All the Young Dudes" type intro-chorus that resurfaces throughout "Shoe Gazer," The Life of David saunters from heartbreak to heartbreak, doubt to doubt, apology to apology, indignation to indignation, consolation to consolation, deprecation to deprecation – riding on sonic contrasts of soaring background and Knott's silky gruff (his voice tempered to the point where even a Knott-newbie can acquire taste quickly). It is always anyone's guess as to the auto-biographical nature of Knott's songs, but this particular album feels that way – it feels like it's about him; and not about his neighbors or fictional characters. When he sings in the song "Chameleon" about "becoming corporate" and loving "all God's creatures / all but one / this chameleon," I have to wonder if he would really strain on about anyone in such penitent tones other than himself. It's too vulnerable, too sarcastic to not be confession and outro-intro-spective examination. Such is also the case with "Into Your Heaven," a love song soaked with overwhelming, unrestrained personal whimsy. "Halo" is a song so theologically significant in its simplicity and truth that it almost makes up for hundreds of years of spiritual abuse in the Church. The simple statement of "Hell no / I don't care if your halo don't glow" resounds deeply with the character of God – subtly tracing His tender mercies from fallen Adam to chosen Abraham to King David to the 'Prodigal Son' to the thief on the cross next to His dying Son and our resurrected Messiah. In true Mike Knott fashion, the album ends on the lightly strummed solemn chest-beating note of "Hospital" – "I think I need forgiveness / I think I need more than the rest / I think I need just not to know / I think I need a hospital."
. . .The Life of David is not just a whole work of concentrated artistry, with a consistent stream of GOOD songs, it is also a whole work of soul. Knott's broken spirit, sensitive wit, and song-writing mastery deliver to the potential he has always promised, and surprise, surprise – it's to the tune of patience and seized moment.
– Jason Dodd


16 HORSEPOWER
SECRET SOUTH
Razor & Tie
Why doesn’t 16 Horsepower have the rabid following of believers that would allow their scarifyingly inventive alt country-rock ink and airtime through the print and radio arms of more corporately commercial Christian media vehicles than, say, HM?
. . .Because, after an EP and two longplayers on A&M through to Secret South, the band’s singer / songwriter and apparently only Christian member David Eugene Edwards continues to use biblical themes and imagery not so much to encourage, pacify, rally the troops, or soothe as to exorcise and haunt. That is, to exorcise the nature of his old man (in the spiritual sense) and to haunt his audience with the Lord’s aroma.
. . .So, yeah, 16 Horsepower use mandolin, hurdy, fiddles (doubling as a more classical string quartet formation here, too), but within a rootsy punk aesthetic familiar to fans of The Gun Club or Ballydowse. Their sense of atmospherics and Edwards’ plaintive baritone may even lure those curious as to what The Doors may have sounded like had Jim Morrison been Christian and possessed of an Appalachia fetish. Secret South sounds more electric in production than previous 16Hp efforts, but no less enchanting. “Praying Arms Lane,” with its rolling banjo motif, declares the Second Coming in apocalyptically poetic imprecations. “Splinters” affirms Christ’s comfort over foreboding Smokey Mountains-via-the Middle East progressions. In these numbers and elsewhere, Edwards’ dramatic delivery and the singularity of his band-mates’ musical vision makes for art that attracts the artistically adventurous, making believers proud to count Edwards among their ranks and those yet to believe curious because of 16Hp’s poetry and unique stylistic confluence.
. . .Proving they respect their roots, a cover of the standard “Wayfaring Stranger” gets bent into a purgatorial maelstrom of processed vocals and an arrangement that would leave bluegrass pioneers like Bill Monroe flummoxed. A remake of Bob Dylan’s “Nobody ‘Cept You” reveals the band’s rarer, tender side, strangely pretty it is. Secret South is less for those who want to bang their heads than to have them messed over. But 16 Horsepower’s way of going about it is a sonically mutant, godly thing.
– Jamie Lee Rake


ADRIAN GALE
FEEL THE FIRE
Kivel
Jamie Rowe’s vocals were born for melodic rock. While I loved the direction Guardian took with Buzz and Bottle Rocket, the blues-based hard rock he and Guardian rollicked in during the Fire and Love and Miracle Mile era were top notch. It seems this part of him never died, and now it’s slingshot firing him back into that scene with a flurry of hammer-ons. Enter a new band that majors in this feel-good, melodic direction. These guys are true 80's metal musicians, but I hear strong loyalties to the metal of the 70’s here. I hear R&B guitar influences from early Aerosmith (“Walkin’ The Dog”), Zeppelin’s acoustic textures (“Honey Child”) and the power chord attitude of Kiss (“Feel The Fire”), along with big-time gang vocals a la Van Halen. The musical mix is confident, and lets their identity express itself. Production-wise, it’s almost perfect. ‘Indie-rock’ naysayers beware: these bad boys rock so darn well that cheap shots are best saved for the fakers. Steelheart and Winger fans have a Y2K album release to add to their vintage collection.
. . .One of the first things you’ll notice lyrically is that Jamie Rowe’s influence is felt. While not heavy-handed with evangelical sermonizing, he takes girl / love themes and keeps ‘em from crossing that promiscuous line of debauchery without losing attitude or innocence:
. . .“Walk beside me, little honey child / Doin’ things girl, you know, that drive me wild” (“Honey Child”)
. . .“If we became friends / If we became lovers / I would give you my world / Like I gave to no other” (“Just Let Me Love You”)
. . .Other songs not penned by Jamie (who was asked to add his vocals to an album already written) reflect a similar mindset:
. . .“Mission man, on your way / I see right through the lies . . . We now know what not to do and who not to trust / Sink so low / Our country now is ruined by your lust” (“Mission Man”)
. . .“When you gonna learn, fire only burns / Every road and bridge you take / Won’t you ever know, that’s no way to go / Live the way you live / And you reap what you sow” (“Reap What You Sow”)
. . .It’s one thing to make metal in the new millennium, and it’s another to do it justice. Adrian Gale joins a small, select collection of bands (Dream Theater, Rob Rock, Balance Of Power) and does both. – Doug Van Pelt

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