Album Reviews


Album Reviews

Syndicate Magazine Vol 8, Issue 1 1993

by Brian Q. Newcomb

On the highways of life, Daniel Amos once warned, you don't want to go down "Memory Lane" too many times or you're likely to remain there. Still, the road-less-travelled does at times bring us back around to a familiar stretch, with familiar people and events, even if the lessons and experiences are new ones. Such a return is Motor Cycle.

With much of "the band that won't go away" back in their original positions - Terry Taylor writing and singing lead, Jerry Chamberlain rejoining Greg Flesch on guitars, the ever-amazing rhythm section of Ed McTaggart and Tim Chandler, and even the long-missed auxiliary keyboard presence of Rob Watson added for good measure -- Daniel Amos is using its entire name and much of the original creative influences once again. Motor Cycle moves in the direction of Horrendous Disc meets Vox Humana on a "Scenic Route" through a retro neighborhood of Kalhoun. What goes around comes around, they say, and with memories as pleasant as those brought to mind here it's perhaps not such a bad thing to relive one's glory days. Especially when the current reconstruction is as vital, if not more thoroughly petic and theologically inclusive, than times past.

To point out that Taylor & Co. sound Beatlesque here, would not only be redundant, it would miss the point of how completely and comprehensively they have reinterpolated those 60s inspriations into a unique and other-wise personal vision. When these songs recall moments in the Beatle catalog, as they often do, it is a show of respect as much as it is an attempt to reshape the vocabulary with some new meaning. That from time to time the familiar feeling brought ti mind by a track is some early DA caveat rather than some fabric of the Fab Four's legacy, further reveals that Daniel Amos continues to be a band that has found it's own unique, quirky space.

And nowhere is that more clear than Taylor's lyric. Frederick Beuchner is thanked for inspiration in the liner notes, and the album is dedicated to Mark Heard and all "our dear dead dears." It is not surprising then, or altyogether unlike previous Taylor efforts, to find lyrics contemplating death, the meaning of life and one's life's work, and our promised final act of God in history. In a year when a fellow traveller, another unsung hero and singer/songwriter that like Taylor was not appreciated in his own genre, died suddenly with little warning, we would expect this writer that has delved into similar subjects on A Briefing for the Ascent to do so again. What's inspiring here, is that there is no morbid self-defense or melodramatic pretense; only an acceptance of reality on its own terms, and a hope that will not fade away when all else does.

Opening with "Banquet at the World's End," Taylor makes his most helpful prophetic observation on the end times yet. In darkly humorous language he points out that the rich and beautiful will be too busy with their 'real estate and sex lives, livestock and ex-wives' to take notice of the changing of the guard. But the less fortunate will understand immediately that things will be set aright. In a comical variation on tragedy, Taylor sees 'The poor are coming, the lame are running, in their sleazy clothes & orthopedic shoes.' There is no cruelty in his proclamation that 'There's a harelip spokesman shouting out the news.' If it's sad to us now, that's because the broken in all of us must wait still. Yet there is a Monty Python-like ridiculousness in the conjured vision. Remember from Life of Brian: "He says the meek will inherit the earth." "Well, it's about time, they've had a bloody hard time of it."

Throughout this Motor Cycle, Taylor pictures the world as a difficult place to live, where life itself is painful. ("Hole in the World" and "Guilty"). Still there are beautiful realities as well ("Grace is the Smell of Rain"). In relationships, especially with one's children, and in telling the truth with love and artful integrity, Taylor has found enough to satisfy, even if it's not all the acclaim and wealth that popular culture teaches us to value. While these songs share sadness and disappointment, there is also a sense of ease and engagement rather than disillusion and apathy.

In the Lost Dogs-like "(What's Come) OVer Me," Taylor affirms that like the lame in "Banquet," he too has been made new. In "Motorcycle," he again tries to sum up what life has been like in his career and in this band. With death always in view ('Getting older, we've run some red lights, none of us are safe now'), he holds onto the ideals that made it worth the trip in spite of those who deny its worth: "We were still honest, even when no one was looking, hard to breathe easy with nay-sayers on the sidecar". While the songs says 'We might not even be remembered,' the cycle concludes and the album ends with a song of final reconciliation with those who have been lost in this life ("So Long Again"). It is the final affirmation, that whether we make it in this world or not, the wait will bring us safely home to "Perfect Days."

Daniel Amos is the fore-father on the creative edge of relevant Christian rock and alternative music and it has produced consistently compelling works throughout its over-15-year career. In the old days they were ahead of their times, and now their artistic accomplishments continue to surface as important landmarks for those who would seek an artful, honest and fulfilling expression of the Christian faith in music that is undeniably vital, aggressive and fun. I know I'm a sucker for anything with a beat, and Terry Taylor -- together with this magnificent collection of people and players -- has always held that rhythm in the palm of his hand. This is the first great rock album of the year.

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.

On Being July 1993

by Martin Fawkes

On their journey to the "Banquet at the World's End," more familiarly known as the marriage supper of the Lamb, veteran CCM band Daniel Amos invite their listeners to jump aboard their new song cycle and journey through the trails of mystery and imagination in a Bunyanesque tour de force of music and lyrical adventure.

Yes, it is eccentric: Beatlish, a la "I Am The Walrus" or "Strawberry Fields Forever," Crowded Houseish in the cheekiness of lilting layers of harmony (in parts) but undergirded with dirty guitars to prevent things from getting too likeable.

Terry Taylor, with the heart of a storyteller, dreams songs to life of a world where the last shall be first ("the poor are coming/the lame are running/the blind are seeing/the dead are breathing!")

But the journey is filled with traps and snares for the unwary traveller, as "would-be believers/beat plowshares to spears," and "the lunatic fringe... come to trouble the water." Even a motorcylce isn't the safest form of transport.

The overwhelming truth is that, despite the dangers, struggles and snares, God's grace will sustain, empower and bring home all who are not too stff-necked to receive it.

True to their name, Daniel Amos have provided us with a prophetic vision of an aspect of God's order. And true to form, they've packaged it in such a way that some will find it weird, some will find it offensive and some will find it... Wonderful!.

Reviews provided thanks to the writers, magazines and newspapers listed as well as fans that have helped us collect them - Richard Towry, Martin Fawkes