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Slow down as you approach the gate, and have your change ready....
Artist: Paul Colman
Time: 13 Tracks / 55 mins
I distinctly remember giving away a copy of Paul Colman’s Let It Go! album a few years back to an Australian friend, who wanted it because it reminded her of Down Under. I gave it away reluctantly, because it had an easy groove that said something smart without shouting too loud about itself. There were decent songs, but a vibe across the whole disc that said more than the sum of its individual parts.
So I put this on the player with a sense of quiet excitement, but my initial response to the opening track (“If I Was Jesus”) was disappointment. Maybe it didn’t help that the pedant in me reacted badly to the bad grammar of its title, but despite a neat guitar riff, the chords were predictable, the vocals lacked passion, and particularly, the annoyingly up-front rhythm loop sounded somewhat home-made. It tries to make a good point, but it often just sounds trite.
Maybe a different starter track would have upped my view of the disc significantly, because there are several very strong songs here. The hit singles “Turn” and “Run” are particularly impressive, lushly produced, with a far thicker sound than most other pieces here. “Turn” has some nicely textured wah-wah rhythm guitar, up-in-the-mix percussion and some echoing harmonies to support the big hook. “Gloria (All God’s Children)” has an anthemic Delirious? feel, and the poppy “Solution” is welcome for its strong bottom end and the way it evokes Michelle Tumes’s livelier pieces.
Colman covers Delirious?’s “History Maker” with a version of parallel strength to the original; while the other cover here is of Larry Norman’s “Sweet, Sweet Song of Salvation” – a song that has been off the radar for some years. This version both stays true to the feel of the original and adds some welcome thick bassiness; but despite loving it, I am not convinced that the song has aged well.
Another niggle that others may not share is the lyrical base to the otherwise perky “”The One Thing,” where Colman explains how he questions everything but God. I think that he is trying to say that God is dependable beyond all else, but the way he words it makes it sound like he is frightened of doubt and seems to play into the hands of those who claim that Christians are afraid to think.
Paul Colman has seen the Newsboys from close up for some while, even before joining them, and he seems to have learned their knack of making songs with predictable chord sequences hold on until the Big Chorus breaks in. Unfortunately, he sometimes over-eggs the formula here. At over four minutes, the jangly “Fill My Cup” is still a tad too long.
History seems to suffer from a disease common to retrospectives: there can be very different production standards sitting cheek-by-jowl. Some tracks here are a lot thinner than others. However, this becomes a saving feature at the end. The last three tracks are less produced, and while “All U Need” is not strong enough for a best-of, the superb live six-minute “The Killing Tree” joins it in a refreshing simplicity and honesty. By switching on his vulnerability, he connects with the listener and makes real impact. He also goes deeper, examining emotions and responses to God’s leading.
So this is a mixed selection. Taken in one go, the effect can be of too much repetition. However, there are several fine songs from an even spread of earlier releases. It is not a disc that cries out to be played, but once on, there is a fair amount to enjoy.
Download recommendations: Turn, Run, Gloria, Solution, Sweet Sweet Song of Salvation, The Killing Tree.
The world of music boasts no shortage of artists who cut their teeth within the friendly confines of the duo or full-band setting before venturing out to try their hand in the solo arena (think Justin Timberlake, Eric Clapton and Dolly Parton). Conversely, any number of performers have chosen the opposite route and traded in their lives as solo stars for a taste of the group-based life (think Michael English’s tenure with the Gaither Vocal Band or David Bowie’s stint in the short-lived Tin Machine). And then, of course, there are singers and musicians who, for any number of reasons, seem to shuffle back and forth between the two settings with alarming regularity (David Lee Roth, you know who you are).
Much like the ever-gregarious Van Halen front man, Paul Colman’s musical trajectory has tended to oscillate between his singular and band-based endeavors. Concentrating mainly on the years between 2002 and the present, the History anthology chronicles the songwriter/guitarist’s ever-changing musical trajectory via a 13-track assortment of radio singles, album cuts, rerecorded fan favorites and cover tunes. The latter two categories, as it turns out, are mostly hit and miss. Colman’s version of Larry Norman’s “Sweet, Sweet Song of Salvation” retrofits the venerable classic with thoroughly contemporary accouterments without forfeiting any of its innocent jubilation. The transplanted Aussie offers a likewise appealing folk-tinged take on country singer, Toby Keith’s, “If I Was Jesus.” On the other hand, though, while remakes of Delirious’ “History Maker” and Colman’s own tunes, “All U Need” and “The Killing Tree,” are certainly fair enough in their own right, they nonetheless sound far too similar to the original versions to be considered even marginally essential.
The eight tracks that are left, though, weigh in with much more consistently impressive results. Most listeners will already be well acquainted with the Paul Colman Trio’s “Turn” and “Run,” each of which rightfully earned the pole position on the CHR charts and both of which showcase Colman’s seemingly effortless mastery of dynamic, hook-filled tunes. The likewise familiar Top 5 single, “Fill My Cup,” proves the former Newsboy to be an equally skilled craftsman of the winsome, sun-drenched sing-along. The remaining album-based entries, while not quite as instantly memorable as their charting cousins, still serve to highlight the breadth of Colman’s talent as he turns out ingratiatingly catchy U2-styled arena rock (“Gloria”), lilting folk-pop (“The One Thing”) and sparkling adult contemporary fare (“I Owe It All”).
Interestingly enough, despite Colman’s having over fifteen releases under his belt, nearly all of the self-penned tunes on History are taken from the New Map of the World and Let It Go projects. This may be due to the fact that these were Colman’s first internationally-distributed group and solo efforts, respectively, but it still makes for a somewhat skewed portrait of his back catalog. Similarly, the decision to fill nearly a quarter of the album with cover versions is a bit puzzling. Those merely looking for a balanced overview of Colman’s career would probably have opted for their deletion in favor of more material from his previous records. And longtime devotees, while no doubt thrilled at the inclusion of previously-unavailable cuts, would be better served picking up these three covers, along with two others, on the just-released If I Was Jesus EP.
Arguments about which songs should or shouldn’t have been included aside, the History compilation itself is, with only one or two exceptions, an exceptionally solid affair from start to finish. And its individual tracks, regardless of their particular album of origin, still lock together nicely to form a tight and cohesive whole. Colman has never shied away from the big hook or sweeping lyric, so those who are less than bowled over by his previous work probably won’t be brought into the fold by the best-of effort. Listeners willing to forego the musical dissection, on the other hand, will be amply rewarded by simply taking the new record for what it is – an appealing array of heartfelt, well-crafted compositions. Neither exhaustive nor even, arguably, representative, History is still as good an introduction as any to Colman’s refreshingly energetic and uplifting brand of music-making.
Bert Gangl, The Phantom Tollbooth (03.20.2009)