Thursday, September 18, 2014

Music Review - Phil Keaggy - Re-Emerging

Since writing this review I've had the opportunity to speak and/or write with Phil Madeira a number of times. His book was also a very enjoyable read.

Back in the summer of 1977, before the world knew the joys of rainbow suspenders and the phrase Nanu-Nanu, the Phil Keaggy Band released their only album, Emerging. Age one quarter decade and this album has been re-mastered and re-released on CD under the name ReEmerging. As is the case with any self-respecting re-release, spiffy bonus tracks are included, as is a 16-color booklet full of memories and pictures of young guys wearing late 1970s clothing and facial hair.

By 1977 Phil Keaggy was well known in the musical world, especially in the mostly unknown Christian music world. Unlike most Christian bands at the time, PKB was a professional working band. If they weren’t touring they were practicing eight hours a day - for two years. The result is evident from the first spin. This band is tight and is most definitely a band with members that understand each other musically. As you might expect, the original eight tracks (yes, in the pre-CD era eight tracks running 35 minutes was acceptable) sound a bit dated but it’s to their credit how well they stand up over two decades later. In addition to the strong songwriting is the broad variety of genres, ensuring confusion among modern-day record companies as how to pigeonhole and market such a beast.

The opening track, an instrumental written by Taylor University grad and PKB keyboardist Phil Madeira, is quite peppy yet suffers the most from a 1970s keyboard sound. “Where Is My Maker” is exceptionally diverse, combining country with reggae and Eagles vocal harmonies, ending in a fantastic jazz-fusion jam session where the Keaggy and Madeira trade solos on guitar and keys, respectively. Typical mid-70s Keaggy is the uplifting light rock of “Another Try” and the gentle lullaby “Ryan’s Song,” written for Keaggy’s stillborn son. Another Madeira track, “Struck By The Love”, is quite dramatic in its pacing with a charged verse juxtaposed by a quiet, reflective guitar solo passage. “Turned On The Light” is a bluesy song that segues into a countrified chorus that is unfortunately one of two songs that suffer from cheesy late-70s Christianese lyrics, the other being “Sorry,” which retells the New Testament parable of the 10 virgins and their oil lamps. These two aside, for the time period the songs are amazingly free of any kind of preachy attitude. “Take A Look Around” is a mid-tempo rocker full of baritone sax that melts into a blistering jam session that reveals how badly this band could kick your scrawny little butt if it wanted to and don’t bother trying to get your big brother to protect you ‘cause they’ll kick his arse, too.

With the four bonus tracks the album comes to a respectable 50 minutes. The only bonus track that really belongs is “Mighty Lord,” a Madeira song PKB used to close their concerts but was left off the original recording due to an inane decision higher up the food chain. But here it is, a brand spankin’ new recording sure to get your bootay shakin’ with lots of Hammond organ and dueling guitar solos. The other tracks include a song by Keaggy where he plays all the parts (dude, it’s supposed to be the Phil Keaggy Band) and one each by the drummer and bass player, both very country and with a bit of novelty feel about them.

Still, this re-release was obviously done with a lot of care, giving these well-written songs the justice they deserve and revealing a talented band in the prime of their prowess.

First published 2003 in WhatzUp.

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