Thursday, July 04, 2013

Dig Here Said the Angel - latest album by Daniel Amos



Disclaimer

This is not a review because I am not a critic. But I am critical, and picky as old grumpy men often are. Most of these opinions are underscored by personal exigencies of the moment, be they digestive, post-prandial somnolent, restless legs disordered or globally acute & non-sensorial in nature. So the most these notes reach for is to be respectfully amusing, honestly appreciative and more than a little unapologetically bombastic and presumptuous.



Executive Summary

<> Really like Terry’s voice throughout, better than ever before… nice work TST.

<> An amazing and exuberant collaborative work.

<> The entire album is transcendent.



Huh?

Took some time to catch the latter and to ask myself, “what do I mean by transcendent?”  I don’t mean an escapist, post-modern leap into upper-story metaphysics. I mean that even when a lyric poses as personal, it never leaves us out in the chicken coop to fend for ourselves. We can include ourselves in the experiences of the narrator every time without that being a force-fit. A transcendent album is rare, wonderful and inviting like a twenty-first century book of pilgrim’s psalms.



Onward to the Songs

Now at first I’m a bit startled. When I am a little sleepy (98-99% of the time) and click on Play, my brain’s default expectation is Sgt. Pepper’s… can’t explain it, that is just what happens. With the opening guitar and intimate vocal I suddenly find myself in Mr. Buechner’s Dream which is quite disorienting. I hate being in someone else’s dream. So after lifting the needle and checking the label I see the singer had a mishap with his transmission: Forward in Reverse, a common senior moment. But by then Mr. Buechner’s Dream has musically boarded the Magical Mystery Tour to end up lyrically Driving in England… very jarring but it keeps Getting Better, chocked full of Mr. Taylor’s turn of phrase, leaving me to wonder is this a different angel who lied or the same one supervising the excavation?



Jesus Wept contains one of my favorite lines on the CD, “They mounted up like eagles, now they’re dropping like flies..”. Reminds me of my dad some years ago, revealing one of the nuances of becoming truly old, lamenting how he had had outlived all his friends. Instead of a typical chorus the verses end with the song’s title, a plain reminder of the cost of Christ’s redemption (His broken humanity) followed by a lyrical pause as the guys move us through pleasing chord progressions and into the next stanza. There’s a matter of fact beauty in this song, “for not all tears are an evil” (Gandalf), and we will yet dance.



The title track sounds like it reaches into the decades when I lost track of Mr. Amos and his amalgamated buddies. By this point we progress from “we’s all gonna die someday ‘cuz we’re getting old and stuff” to a resigned “ok, I’m dying”. By now it’s apparent even the kitchen sink may be employed for seismic sonic effects before this is over, and what cosmic splashes of magma they be. (A quick agreement with others who’ve suggested listening with headphones, and I would add: set volume near 10.)



Then the lonely hearts club puts on their (Our) New Testament Best and we discover there is mercy enough for all the old men dancing the waltz on Pablo Fanque’s flying trapeze. Is mercy the key to Christian unity? Ask the guys on the trapeze.



Enough mercy for another song: Love, Grace and Mercy. Another one of the more straight ahead DA rockers we love. After one of the most rapid-fired lyric lines in history we end up on our knees and begging for more. By the end the bells and angel chorus take us into the inner sanctuary.



Then we evolve to… dead. Terry emphasizes Now That I’ve Died in a way that is more than effect. He means it. This not a nod to punk-headed imitators of ancient rock monsters. This is an essential statement of essential meaning in a repetitive essential manner by which essential absolutes are reduced to their essential purity: “i dead, u dead – let us not kid ourselves, we’s all dead.”. Do you hear the jingling reference to Like Lazarus followed by the old feller’s ghoulish guitar lick? And whence that falsetto chorus dancing about like cherubs? Methinks a reprise of the impish King’s Kids. FYI Lazarus, though sometimes unnamed, is repeat offender throughout the CD. And, yes Uncle T, we hear the less than subtle reference to posthumous renown… still looking to the mercy.



Midstream we might think the Shotgun Angel has journeyed to Abbey Road singing  We’ll All Know Soon Enough along the way. This opens with an unsettling stroll through trolling rolls and icy tremolos that lead me to think, “I’m not in Kansas anymore.” A childhood buddy of mine once said he thought when we died, all we would see is a sign that says “This Is It” and then ‘click’ nothing… an easy adolescent clichĂ© to avoid thinking of what else might be there. But here DA forces us to consider the questions we might ask in that microsecond between death and epiphany… with a majestic gothic guitar theme like a soundtrack to a film by Edgar Alan Poe. Kept looking over my shoulder and expecting to catch a glimpse of the Hound of Heaven. This is vying to be a personal favorite.



Waking Up Under Water – Hans Zimmer? Is that you and Captain Jack dancing in your tricorns and breeches across the ocean floor? No! It’s Mr. Chamberlain, who has fallen off the moon to find himself under the reality of reality. Another straight shooting rocker me likes, with a bit of thunder from legends who were Born to Be Wild on their way to Kashmir. This one gets the hook of the year award.



A hero sometimes declines rescue so he might become a greater servant. The Uses of Adversity is the plain request of such a plain hero. Classic DA colors intertwine around this ballad of grounded and timeless wisdom from an elder brother.



Ruthless Hum of Dread plays out like a poem accompanied by music. Well sure, what TST song doesn’t? I say this one does more than many, and the production reflects that when the instruments drop out entirely for a few lines, a technique found elsewhere on the album. Terry might just as well have been cloistered in a smoke filled Greenwich Village cafĂ© with Ed on bongos... well ok, toms. But sweet release comes in the last verse: not even dread’s awful grip on our innards in the middle of the night can stand up to death’s entry into Life. “Ruthless” ends with the lads having a bit of ambient fun.



On the last song Terry glides into a Lennon-esque older brother’s assuring voice, a nice sound for the good Uncle, and the song’s opening feel is not unlike Lennon’s Imagine, as well as the more prominent piano. Soon comes the triumphant, spiraling guitar break that parts the clouds and bam! The Sun Shines On Everyone launches into an anthemic declaration – a great arm in arm chorus fairly exclaimed by brothers and sisters across the world, and cheered by angels across the sky.



Of the Players

Mr. Chandler is the only multi-personality bass player ever encountered. Who else might start two songs in a row with the same “baWhoom” growl, and don’t we just love it? Check tracks 5&6 – what’s fun is the baWhoom uses the same notes but leads to a different key. His understated bass lines dance around the song’s roots like gnomes in Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” until they erupt in furtive snarls, then crawl back into their troll caves to ravish the shadows again.



The other day I caught the end of a Radiohead song while switching between stations… and thought, “wow, that sounds like Mr. Flesch doing yet another ghost-apocalyptic, six-stringed nuclear train wreck…”  That wouldn’t have been my thought if I hadn’t listened to “Dig” a few times already. Where does all that come from? Perhaps it’s best not to… dig too deep. Not here, anyway… awesome.



The guitar and keyboard layers would have made the sixties psychedelic crowd soar… higher? Is it just me, or aren’t these marvels of twenty-first century engineering inspired by their analog counterparts from that era, finally liberated from the squeaks and squeals of the iron age? Keyboards? Enough to fill the Albert Hall. Mr. Watson and related digital masters excel throughout.



Steady, they say. So is a fine automobile. Sure you can be blasted by a reckless, throaty, smoke belching monster, but if you want to transported through a crystalline range of alpine peaks and emerge the better for it, you’ll do well to dwell on the punchy metrics of Mr. McTaggert.



In Summary

Clearly the album prompts the entreaty, “Uncle Terry, you’re scaring me. All this talk of death! Please go on tour asap and dispel these lingering images of your ravished skeletal fingers clutching a shovel like the neck of your favorite ax.” Ah, but it is clear, dear one, why you’ve taken us along this macabre road:  my moldering soul will pass through a grief, a corpse, a tomb… but it is not a lost, unintended path. Instead it’s the liberating transfiguration traced across my heart by the tip of Jehovah’s finger. Thank you for digging through a formidable subject, and “painting the grace you’ve been given” so we can see it too.



I don’t know enough about good production quality to recognize it even when it parts my  hair, splits my skull and embeds itself between my disparate left and right brains. Which is precisely what happens when you leave this CD spinning for hours on end in your headphones. Left and right fight each other to catch that last shimmering flash that went by. Hah! So what do I not know? This thing is smashing good! It seems every track braids iridescent rays of gold and platinum, rare earths and a little dirt, into an illuminated manuscript of smoking incense. Mr. Daugherty & crew leave no stone unturned, no hole undug in their Search for the Lost Chord, fill, harmony, and aural brilliance.



My ironic eardrums are turned inside out.

I've been dug to the core.

You’ve kil’t me DA.



Philippians 3:8-14

3:10 “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death…”





Ken Paxton

July 4, 2013