August '98 Pick of the Month

Surfonic Water Revival
Artist: Various Artists
Label: KMG records
Time: 17 tracks at 57:44

Surfonic Water Revival ("surf music for the redeemed masses") is the brain child of Terry Scott Taylor, one of the greatest song writers ever. With a nod to Brian Wilson, Jan and Dean, the Ventures, Beach Boys, Dick Dale and many others, Terry has directed a musical trip, featuring some of Christian music's finest talent--making waves unlike any other to come from the Christian music community. Surf music has a sound that you know when you hear it, a twangy, echoing guitar, a tom tom beat that moves you, harmonies that you can listen to over and over. Terry Taylor and company have taken those elements and made an album combining the music and beat, with lyrical themes that are glorfying to God, that stands on it's own. The result is distinguished, erratic, and extraordinary.

The record kicks off with a surf master piece called "Wave Perfect." A surfer's praise song, performed by Smalltown Poets and surf guitar master Paul Johnson, exalting the Lord for His masterful creation, and declaring the surfer's devotion to God, who moves though His creation like a Wave Perfect. The second song is also a classic rock song. "California Blue," performed by Brother's Keeper with the great Phil Keaggy on guitar, is faster than the previous track with great harmonies and wild rock guitar reminiscent of the old California hits. Keaggy's playing is as masterful as ever. Next up are the Insyderz, presenting the first possible problem with the album, this is straight ska music. For the surf purist this song will never do, but in reality it starts to set the stage for the diversity underlying the entire album. The lyrics and the song are great, one of the best on the record, but one must get over the style to appreciate this one.

"Endless Summer Pt.2" and "Surfer Girl Replies," the next two songs, are performed by Chuck Girard of Love Song (with Paul Johnson again contributing his guitar skills) and Plumb. Both songs seem to be answers to previously recorded verses, the first one to one of Terry Taylor's own songs from Alarma! called "Endless Summer," about the search for an endless good time and the hard results of that search. This song in response to that says that the search is over, we've found an endless Love, One who fulfils our yearnings. The "Surfer Girl Replies," with Plumb's Tiffany Arbuckle sounding very pretty,  answers Brian Wilson's classic, saying that "I am not perfect, or even good, but I'm willing to be your girl, Lord."

Mr. Taylor has written some surprising, superior songs for this record,  with out clouding the meanings in figurative phrases like he is would to do on his own projects. On Surfonic he has expressed his love of God and his appreciation of His mercy and grace quite openly, compared to most of his work through the years, masterfully matching different styles, and different artists. But, Terry gets to sing his own song on the sixth track, a melancholy tune with rich harmonies called "Into the Deep" and dedicated to Kerry Livgren. The song speaks of how a deep tragedy can bring one back to love and life. Then handing the mike over to his friend Randy Stonehill, Taylor has written a song for Stonehill and Havalina Rail Co., that sounds much like some of the material from their colaborations on Wonderama "The Sun Comes Out Again" comes in with the bells, staccato keyboards, and guitars featuring a classic boardwalk tone.  Terry is back again on the next track with his band Daniel Amos, singing a more trademark Terry Taylor song, in that it is a bit more symbiotic than the other songs he's penned for this project. He sings of the angst of looking for real life (surf) in a plastic, faked, unreal world (a pool).

The last half of the record is a little more up and down. For the most part, the waves (songs) we've been catching, up until now, have been tubular. "Gold Coast" is the first non Terry Taylor song we come to. Sung by Rebecca St. James in a scary, soft, moody voice, it's a fine modern rock tune, but not surf music, per se. The next two songs are again penned by Taylor, and performed fairly well by Silage, and All Star United with Phil Keaggy making another appearance. Phil's chops in "Surfer's Paradise" are great once again, but the music does not strictly fit the theme of surf music. Rick Altizer's "Oyster" and his "Last Day of Summer" as performed by Skillet are just okay. "Oyster" was obviously written to be a Beach Boys nod but comes out more like a Beatles touched, slow tune. Skillet's performance is not bad but belongs on the next hard rock sampler, with distorted vocals, fuzzy guitars, and electronic drums.

The last three songs are super! Starting with the Supertones doing an instrumental "Caught Inside." A fun ska-urfer number that bounces along the white caps.  The record calms down some at "The Net," with Mike Roe and the Lost Dogs in front of Rich Young Ruler. Mike Roe's vocals are just beautiful on this Taylor composition, and a worthy Beach Boys homage. The record's grand finish is to revisit the first song, "Wave Perfect", but done instrumentally with the  great surf guitar of Paul Johnson appearing once again.

The idea is novel. The final product is also novel, and fun, and should become a classic. This is an over all wonderful record. Well written and well performed, hopefully they will sell a million of them. If you're reading this and don't have one yet, what are you waiting for? Get in your woody, head for the dangerous beach head that is your local book store, and ride this water revival all the way in.

By Tony LaFianza (8/14/98)

To be honest, I was somewhat dubious about this project when I heard about it.Christians have often been accused of catching musical waves when they are already well-developed (often just before they crash into the shore) and that could easily have been the case here. The fact that Terry Taylor, one of Christian music's more respected innovators, was involved intrigued me, however, so I decided that the album merited a listen.

The sleeve notes clearly show that when it comes to surf music Taylor knows what he's talking about, and he's assembled an interesting collective of musicians to put together this album--incorporating many familiar names from the alternative side of Christian music with some newer faces. It's great to hear new material from Daniel Amos, and Taylor's band comes across with what seems the most convincing track. Surf music is just down the right street to appeal to All Star United, and their contribution is also great fun, with some excellent guitar soloing from guest musician Phil Keaggy. A few of the tracks seem out of place--the ska of the Insyderz for example, and the slightly alternative pop of Rebecca St. James--but apart from these issues, the album has the feel of good production. Taylor actually explains some of this away with the liner notes where he outlines some of the difficulties in defining 'surf music.'

Most of the lyrics were written by Taylor, but unfortunately they are not all up to his usual high standards. If it was his intention to mix in the odd cheesy cliche (and given the context it may have been) then he has done well, but there are a few too many of them for my tastes, and if it weren't for his recent solo project I'd be a little worried about this tendency.

I expect this album to do well. It deserves to, with some first rate musicianship and some popular artists. There are quite a few rough edges, particularly lyrically, but given the endurance of surf music I doubt that this wave is going to crash down too soon.

By James Stewart (09/08/1998)