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Daniel Amos

Motor Cycle

CCM Magazine February 1993
by Bruce A. Brown

Motor Cycle reintroduces us to "the band that won't go away;" the Daniel Amos with a love for '60s-influenced pop Taylor's production work with Randy Stonehill on that artist's Pet Sounds / Sgt. Pepper homage, Wonderama, must have reawakened Terry's love for the close harmonies, shimmering guitar filigrees and panoramic production techniques of that bygone era. Though the group's Beatles/Beach Boys/Mersey Beat roots were never completely hidden, D.A. hasn't worn its '60's influences so plainly on its sleeve since 1980's Horrendous Disc. Also back in the fold for this album is long-time guitar and vocal foil Jerry Chamberlain. Chamberlain pinch-hit as a Swirling Eddie, but hasn't cut a full album with D.A. for 10 years; his distinctive vocal and guitar phrasings are a large part of the album's retro-nuevo sound.

The opening track on Motor Cycle, "Banquet at the World's End," sets the lyrical and musical tone for the entire album. Taylor can be inscrutable or make the theme of a song so plain that you start looking for hidden meanings; he alternates those two approaches on Motor Cycle. Over layers of chiming guitars, gloskenspiel, elastic bass and "dit-dit-dit" background vocals, Taylor and Chamberlain sing of a feat which seems only to attract "the poor and lame," with "their sleazy clothes and orthopedic shoes;" apparently (as is often the case in Taylor's tales) "the beautiful people" don't know what they're missing. "Traps, Ensnares" mixes nasally Lennon-espue vocals with brassy music hall horns, sitar and mellotron for an ominous, yet somehow comforting wardning not to fall for the ever present enticements of the enemy. Another favorite Taylor subject, the temporal nature of this life, is addressed on "Hole in the World." The singer knows, from "Banquet," that "the table is set and the door is open" but the afterlife has only been partially revealed ("I've been looking for your Holy face, through a window draped with lace"). Taylor follows that with a delicious "I should Have Known Better" rewrite, titled "(Whats Come) Over Me." This bright pop paean to God's omnipresence might be the band's best chance in a decade to get some radio play.

As always, Taylor's family plays an important role in his songwriting. "Buffalo Hills" uses the metaphor of baseball to illustrate how God makes himself visible in what we might consider trivial events. The umpires become "God disguised as men in dark shirts and masks;" the dads watching their sons play are "proud fathers cursing the fates, then speaking in tongues" (not of the heavenly variety, I'll bet!) "Noelle" is a trippy love poem to Taylor's daughter. Much as our heavenly father wants to shield us from harm, Taylor prays for a fantasy world where "An angel guards her golden gate/In a place called 'Fathers Arms'" (referring back to the Shotgun Angel track). "Guilty," is a piece of raw honesty aimed at a long-suffering spouse; "I've been all wrong baby/Ad nauseam baby... Girl I pray you understand/I'm a tired and a broken man."

Following that, you run smack into the title track, which begins a seven-song cycle elaborating on the themes established during the album's first half. "Motorcycle" is part travelogue and part documentary, referring at times to the trip the band is presently on, D.A.'s critics ("Hard to breathe easy with naysayers on the sidecar of our motorcycle") and the band's historical significance ("We've run some red lights... might not even be remembered"). In his one lead vocal appearance, Chamberlain finds the unfolding cycle of life to be "Wonderful," while Taylor, on the other hand, finds "My Frontier" to sometimes be a grim landscape - "'Neath my face is a graveyard/All my days buried here, the people I've been." Still, the Rubber Soul-soaked "Grace is the Smell of Rain" finds both agreeing that God's grace is available to all, whether it's "the old dogs [that] learn new tricks" or "the low of the lows, dregs of the earth."

Of course, no project from the D.A. camp would be complete without at least one pointed jab at the hypocrisies often evident in the modern church; "Wise Acres" fills the bill on this outing. Even as Taylor caustically sings "I don't mix with the chemistry at Wise Acres," he nonetheless sympathizes with their plight - "No one there can see/The greatest enemy/Is the exclusivity." Rounding out the cycle is "So Long Again," a vocal version of an instrumental theme woven throughout the album. The album ends on a swirling mellotron and percussion note, with the words "Might not even be remembered on our motorcycle," leaving you to wonder if Taylor & Co. really do believe this album is their last gasp. It's certainly as melodic and accessible as anything Daniel Amos has done in years; hopefully even a modest success will encourage the boys to forsake premature retirement.