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The Legend of Simon Peter
Artist: The Blackstones 
Label: Indie
Length: 11 tracks / 49:14

Our closest relationships give rise to a torrent of emotions. Loving fully thrusts us to the brink of heaven but can also yank us down to the verge of hell. Family, friends and lovers are usually the focal point of such violent fluctuations, so how much greater would our range of emotions be if the source of this flailing was all three in one, or more specifically, THE three-in-one? This is the emotional framework within which Longview, Washington’s The Blackstones (formerly The Tremolo Cowboys) set their
arresting self-produced release, The Legend of Simon Peter.

While not entirely a “concept album,” Blackstones’ lyricist Aaron LaMere did shape his songwriting to better portray experiences that Simon Peter, Christ ’s right-hand man and leader of the early Christian church, encountered during his time with Jesus and the uncertainty that followed the crucifixion. Like Bono in “Until the End of the World,” LaMere dons the heavy robe of a disciple, providing the listener with an eyewitness account of life within Christ’s inner circle. The rest of The Blackstones ­ Bobby Love, Charlie Meadows, Judah Kirkwood, and Michael Salinas ­ follow suit, pouring as much thought and heart into their instrumentation as were devoted to crafting the lyrics. The result is an authentic, gripping album of solid, intelligent rock ‘n roll.

After a driving song of repentance and praise, the opening track entitled “Comin’ Round,” the curtain more fully opens to reveal a solo Simon Peter reflecting on walking side-by-side with the Savior in “I watch you move”:

I will say, “You are my refuge now”
A secret place when I am in your shadow…
You give gifts that have no end
A friend to men who have no friends

And I watch you move
I love to watch you move

Shimmering guitar work by Kirkwood and beautifully textured lead collages by Love make “I watch you move” one of the most attractive tracks on the album.

The beat quickens ­ a rushed heartbeat ­ the guitars distort ­ tightened muscles ­ and the vocals harden ­ a throat strained by emotion ­ as LaMere exposes Peter’s denial, acceptance of forgiveness, and embracing of the Great Commission:

Well I watched as they took you off to hang you
And I watched as you died for all my sins
And I lied when they asked me if I knew you…

And I cried when I heard you give the commission
And I died when I heard my words deny it…

I have been saved, I have been stolen
I have been set free by your blood…

The foot-pumping, Stones-heavy rocking of “Saved” sinks the stark follow-up, “How Can I Live?,” deeper into a pool of self-doubt and despair. LaMere’s empty-soul vocals and sparse acoustic guitar sound as though they are underwater, drowned in sorrow:
I watch the sun go down
On your memory
I’ve watched these three days pass
Since you left me…

How can I live without you?
How can I live…

“The Day without End” continues the story of grief, a strangely pleasing lament, full-bodied and warm. If being “drunk on the Spirit” meant wallowing in the comfort of a tall glass of otherworldly whiskey, “The Day without  End” would be playing on the juke box of the dark, corner bar down the street. Sad but hopeful, the lyrics admit, “And the sky in all it’s glory could never compare / With how I love you / For you are my first love.”

The smoky, jazzy-chorded “Can’t Seem to Sober” picks up on the intoxicating power of the Spirit incarnate in Jesus:

You are the precious morning Son
It’s you alone who brings me life
And though I sleep among the thorns, I know you are near
You are the mighty King of Kings
And still you pour out all your love
I drink it up just like a fool who can’t seem to sober.
Truly outstanding guitar work on this track, again by LaMere and Love, evoke the smoothness of Mark Knopfler; the fantastically varied song structure pays homage to the likes of Lennon and McCartney.

The echoic layers underneath LaMere’s vocals and acoustic guitar on “Stand up” embody the tenderness and intimacy of the moment when Peter again encounters his risen Savior:

Stand up you foolish man I have walked with you for miles…
Rise up my fallen friend for you have missed your mark again
You must grab hold of one of my wounded arms
You must explain my death to your friends
Christ’s compassionate reassurance and gentle reiteration of the commission give Peter direction to continue to spread the Message; however, he again wants more, begging Christ to “Stay with me.” In this track the Blackstones open wide the doors of an overabundant alt-country barn, stocked with slide guitar, brush snare, and jingling acoustic guitars. Peter’s encounter with Jesus is a shot in the arm that gives him back his confidence and restores him to sing “My favorite tune,” an unabashed love song: “I’m excited, I’m excited to be in love with you…And you know I’d be a fool for you / Live in your light and drink up your truth.”

“I want to come back” restates the opening track’s plea for acceptance, and “Guess you know” provides a sobering closer to this fine album.

With brutal honesty, risky vulnerability and masterful musicianship, The Blackstones have created a moving collection of Christ-centered conversations. This is credible worship tone-dial tweaked and cranked up a couple of notches.

RIYL: Rolling Stones, Tom Petty, Wilco, Ryan Adams, Sheryl Crow

Greg Adams
10/9/2005


 

 

 
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