Your Gateway to Music and More from a Christian Perspective
Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
Artist: Richard Cummins
Label: Electro-tone Records / independent
Time: 16 tracks/58:34
Tribute albums can be difficult to approach critically, since the ghost(s) of the original artists linger in the background, causing you to float somewhere between what you’re actually hearing and what you’re fondly remembering. On his CD, Moments, Richard Cummins has created a most unique tribute to not just an artist (or group of artists), but an entire period (or genre) of music. While most tribute albums feature new interpretations of songs that we heard years ago, Cummins instead gives us new compositions written in the spirit of the songs and artists he’s tipping his musical hat to – most of whom draw from the same musical well that Cummins goes back to again and again – The Beatles. For those of us from a similar musical heritage, who are familiar with the ‘classic’ first wave of what was called Jesus Music, it’s easy to write up a mental list: Phil Keaggy, Daniel Amos, Randy Stonehill, PFR, T Bone Burnett… the list could go on, since the music of The Beatles so permeated the great creative tidal wave of the late sixties and early seventies. Now, as if stepping through time, Richard Cummins brings us a musical travelogue of the sounds and spirit of those recordings.
Lyrically, we’re taken from teenage star-struck fan, to more insightful young adult, to songs of question and eventual self-discovery and revelation (“Life Was So Good,” which brings to mind Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s “Our House,” but with a twist…). By the time we’re through the album, Cummins (as the writer of this diary) comes to a mature understanding of life and spirituality, with the focus no longer on himself, but on the needs of others. Lyrically, these are songs that evolve and go through stages, from immaturity to self-realization.
Unquestionably, as we listen to these songs, we’re invited into Cummins’ emotional diary. Sometimes the songs are about specific people - the two most obvious cases being the first and last tracks - “Singing to us While it Hurts,” and “Julian,” which refer to, respectively, Phil Keaggy (who adds guitars and vocals to the first track) and Julian Lennon. In the first song, Cummins speaks not only of the pleasure we get from these artists but also of the sacrifices they’ve made that we don’t often see or think about; to “Julian,” Cummins speaks for many of us who would like to reach out and say, ‘listen – I guess you’ve had it rough, but there are people who really care about you.’ Appropriately, the first song has Keaggy’s style all over it, including musical references to “What A Day,” from Phil’s recording of the same name, while “Julian” is infused with Beatle-like production and sound-alike moments. “Left Her Lonely Again” is the second track, and provides an interesting bridge, conceptually, between the first and last songs: it almost sounds like a tribute to Keaggy’s Crimson and Blue album, which was itself a tribute to the early recordings of The Beatles! The next track, “The Game Show of Life,” continues the musical autobiography with Cummins sounding eerily like John Lennon (and – oddly enough – you can also hear T Bone Burnett’s vocal timbre in the mix). The presence of Randy Stonehill on this track, and the early Daniel Amos sound in the harmonies, once again brings us back to those Beatle-influenced recordings from DA’s “Horrendous Disc” period. The carnival-like ambiance, complete with a side-show barker, might be a bit too predictable, but is effective in this context. From there we go right into a song from the “I Am the Walrus” Beatle period, with lyrical references to playing songs backwards (remember?) and a wonderful little Bach Trumpet phrase thrown in for the “Penny Lane” side of the brain - this memory-triggering continues ‘till the end of the song, where “Hey Jude” is strongly referenced. Of course, there’s a ‘hidden’ track – and a good one, too: think: “Tomorrow Never Knows,” but about Jesus.
Richard Cummins is a skilled musician and, on this project, a musical chameleon. If there is a weakness in this album, it is that Cummins, the artist, is perhaps too submerged in the personas of his heroes – his homage almost becomes a disguise. After listening to the album, you might be thinking more of Keaggy, Daniel Amos, Stonehill and The Beatles …and wondering where Richard Cummins went. In many ways this is a concept album – it’s possible that the concept overtook the artist at several points – it’s hard to hear a particular riff and not mentally jump to the referenced Beatle song, for instance, instead of concentrating on the song at hand. To discover Cummins in a ‘pure’ form, you might want to jump to the title track, “Moments,” an instrumental where Cummins, alone with his guitar, absolutely shines. Along with Keaggy and Stonehill, there are appearances on this project by no less than John Sferra, Mike Pachelli and Chris McHugh. Cummins plays a multitude of instruments throughout the recording.
It certainly will be interesting
to see where this very talented artist will go next, without the considerable
presence of musical giants from his (and our) past so noticeably hovering
Moments is full of good… moments. You might just find yourself in the mix.
Add half a tock if you love The Beatles & Keaggy – lose half a tock
if you love disco.