The Phantom Tollbooth

The Last Time I Was Here
Artist: Bryan Duncan
Label: Word Records
Time: 10 tracks / 42:57 min.

The title of this CD is a bit misleading. To my knowledge, Bryan Duncan has never been here. Not that there is any reason to complain: Duncan has always been a skillful performer in the blue-eyed soul genre, but this CD has more, well, “thump” than any of his previous efforts. Heavy bass lines dominate several of the songs, lending more of a soul/R&B vibe to the music than is normally present.

This is not to say that this doesn't sound like a Bryan Duncan album; quite the opposite. He brands the new music with a hefty dose of his signature vocals, and there are ballads that will sound comfortably familiar to any longtime fan. All songs feature Duncan's usual straightforward Christian lyrics, such as these:

The liner of the pre-release touts the CD as "a rich and real commentary on the Christian life," and it hits that mark handily. Lyrics address such issues as the longevity of his faith ("I Still Love You - Simple as That"), grace ("This Love is What I Get") and uncertainty about the future ("Once I've Arrived").

Musically, Duncan goes all out in using a variety of sounds. The funky bass lines are carried out by several different instruments, from horns ("God Knows") to bass guitar ("Yes I Will") to drum with psychedelic guitar ("This Love is What I Get") to organ ("Sometimes in the Dark"), and he wisely makes use of gospel backup singers ("God Knows"). He also uses some other interesting effects, chiefly a text-to-voice computer in "Strollin' on the Water," which is a bit disconcerting on first listen but grows less so on successive listens. As always, he is in fine voice, showing off admirable range, strength and control, and his voice blends well with the musical effects he's chosen.

This is a rare find in that it is instantly accessible, instantly likeable, but doesn't grow old to the ears after just a few listens. The variation in tempos keeps listener interest high, and each song has its own unique sound. The fact that it begins with an upbeat song and ends with a slow one is appealing as well. The Last Time I Was Here makes excellent driving music, or headphone music, or  background music. So even though this is not the Bryan Duncan you know and love, you'll love it anyway.

By Lisa Reid (12/5/98)