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Music To Raise the Dead: 1972-1998
Artist: Resurrection Band
Label: Grrr
Music historians would do well to concede that one of America's greatest classic rock bands emanated from a Christian hippie commune in Chicago. That most of their output falls outside of the generally agreed-upon classic rock era is almost beside the point.

Almost beside--because Resurrection Band, the subject of Music To Raise the Dead's three CDs and single DVD, were playing a kind of catch-up for Christendom when they released their debut LP, Awaiting Your Reply, in 1978. Instead of the new wave and punk that was garnering the bulk of positive rock crit' ink that year, Rez (one of the three names the group went by during their 26 years together, along with Rez Band) sounded to still be having a heavenly blast maybe six years prior. Bluesy, sometimes head-bangable riffage, proggy minor key melodies, synth burbles and acoustic folk insinuations predominated; all those elements buoyed lyrics that weren't shy about the Jesus the band was sharing, but neither were they tritely propagandistic. Rez Band were comprised of Christians who thought before they rocked.

And even if the group was technically behind rock's vanguard movements, they had at least a couple of things going for them. First, the newer-fangled music wasn't much of a mass phenomenon for most of the country; there were still plenty of takers for the likes of Led Zeppelin, Foghat and other bands for which Rez would have been a perfect opening act. Second, being so authentically (and poetically) rocking a band in a Christian subculture that probably had a hard enough time absorbing the mellower side of the late '60s-early '70s Jesus movement's musical legacy (e.g., Maranatha! praise & worship choruses), much less this ragtag bunch. The confluence of those two circumstances was, of course, that there were enough young saints hungry for sounds like Rez's expressing the like, precious faith they held in common with this quartet from the Windy City's Jesus People USA (JPUSA).

It wasn't until about three albums later that newer ways of rocking would noticeably impact Rez Band's sound. Even so, the constituent elements not so much sold out as they organically adapted. Glenn Kaiser still exercised his blues jones in achingly soulful singing and his guitar work. Glenn's wife, Wendi, continued in her Janis Joplin-meets-Grace Slick-as-gypsy matron thang (even if "Somebody To Love" by Slick's Jefferson Airplane still stands as arguably more essential than Rez's take on it). Stu Heiss progressed in his axe handling that split the difference between Jimmy Page's and Eddie Van Halen's manners of flashiness.

By the end of the '80s, a change in bassists--from John Denton to Roy Montroy, to accompany John Herrin's drumming--signaled a kind of reversal. The act had enough history and gravitas to be the kind of classicist rock band that didn't have to follow trends. And if their last studio album followed the template of MTV Unplugged, it was more about a trend coinciding with a good excuse for a band with who had been around a while to re-imagine their work in a less electrified setting.

By that time, church folk who didn't appreciate Rez must have thought that rock 'n' roll's still categorically Lucifer's handiwork or weren't paying attention to the consistency of their lifestyle matching up with their lyrics. And amid the dual mandate of edifying the faithful and evangelizing the faithless, they sang of socio-political matters relating to God's meting out of justice and mercy. By the time the general market rock establishment's anti-Sun City campaign reached its zenith, Rez had addressed South African apartheid in song twice. Divorce and video game addiction were among the other concerns the group confronted.

Nigh consistently wonderful as everything is among the set's 52 songs, a couple of quibbles could be made. Perhaps more than one song from Resurrection Band's 1974 cassette-only debut (which shares most of a name with this box set) could have been included, and then at the beginning of the first disc rather than at the end of the third. And perhaps alongside Wendi's re-contextualizing of a general market oldie, including one with Glenn singing lead would have been a good move. He did have a way with The Who and Eric Clapton when he set his mind to it.

The DVD's main feature is their 1992 20th anniversary concert, which was originally scheduled to be released as a separate to their double-CD live album celebrating their birthday. To not interrupt the music's flow, the Kaisers' spoken word portions (Glenn preaches; Wendi testifies) are left as separate vignettes. And take a gander at their three music videos;"Love Comes Down" finds them surprisingly successful as day-glo _Flashdance_/John Hughes acolytes, "Crimes" enlists a goodly percentage of the ensemble's fellow JPUSAns in a less defined storyline, but the sepia-toned, mostly performance footage of "Surprised" finds them at their most natural (even if there's the strange Helen Keller/waterpump bit in there).

Booklet notes by Mike Hertenstein, former editr of JPUSA's Cornerstone Magazine, put Rez into context of the intentional Christian community experiment in which they still share, that magazine and the wider culture. The whole package is a fitting tribute to an act whose influence continues to reverberate among bands called to rock for a Reason beyond themselves.

Jamie Lee Rake  November 30, 2008


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