JesusMusicAgainA little nostalgia, a lot of musical integrity, and some flat-out great songs. Jesus Music Again will make you a believer...

Jesus Music Again: remembering and renewing
Bill Batstone / Bob Bennett / Alex MacDougall
12 tracks / 54:54

They say that if you remember the sixties you weren't really there.

If you remember the songs that make up the track-list of Jesus Music Again you no-doubt were part of the late-sixties/early seventies period that birthed the cultural/religious phenomenon known as The Jesus Movement and the wealth of music (some, wonderful and some, well not so much) that it spawned. Baby-boomers Bob Bennett, Bill (Billy) Batstone, and one-time Daniel Amos member, Alex MacDougall sure remember those songs, and they do them justice on this project, bringing more than just nostalgia to the table. Formidable musicians, the trio (getting by with a little help from their friends, Buddy Greene, Linda McCrary, Alfie Silas, Anne Barbour, Bob Somma, and Phil Keaggy ) don't simply recreate the songs but reinvent them, adding years of well-honed skills to the dozen tracks that were originally birthed out of equal parts enthusiasm and an innocent, new-found faithful optimism.

Genres meant less in those days, so 'Jesus Music' encompassed everything from pop ("Little Country Church") to rock ("Presence of The Lord"), and even more traditional black gospel ("Oh Happy Day"), while creating its own inroads with artists like Phil Keaggy, Second Chapter of Acts, and an obscure folk singer named Bob something.... oh, yeah – Dylan. Yes, folks – there was a day when 'secular' radio stations played Bob Dylan right alongside The Edwin Hawkins singers, and mega-stars like Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood sang about living in 'the presence of The Lord' ....or at least the 'color' of The Lord ('still trying to figure that one out).

Bennett, Batstone and MacDougall have hand-picked a delightful sampler from those days – ten classics, one new one, plus a medley of some eight songs that will certainly bring a rush of recognition to anyone that sat in a 'born-again' church in the days before power-point and worship teams became the norm. The album starts off with a sensibly done rendition of "Oh, Happy Day" featuring the warm, smooth, clean, spacious production of Batstone and Bennett, allowing the acoustic guitar, percussion and bass to sound like real instruments, with a delightful harmonica interjection by Buddy Greene. Bennett's vocals are smooth as silk, richer than in his earlier days, and a pleasure to listen to. Wisely, the song is intact but the crew decided not to attempt any serious 'soul' singing but to infuse the song with more of a smooth samba-like feeling. Later on in the project, when they do Andrae Crouch's "Soon and Very Soon" combining it with "My Tribute," the arrangement manages to make the song work on a totally different level than what we've been used to hearing through the years. The inclusion of these songs – even given a pretty hefty cultural make-over – makes perfect sense as we mentally fill in the blanks while appreciating the songs in a totally new context.

"Until Your Love Broke Through," "Little Country Church," "Easter Song," and, of course, Larry Norman's "UFO" (combined with "He Will Carry Us Away" by Bennett) represent some of the best of the generation's wave of new Christian artists who would combine the sensibilities of pop and rock with the 'old, old story.' The simple beauty of Dylan's "Every Grain of Sand," Barry McGuire's "Communion Song," and Keith Green's "There is a Redeemer" are a reminder of the artistry, purity, and creativity that fueled the early days of the new wave of popular Christian music, and how the best of it often spilled into the church.

The playing throughout is tasteful and strong. MacDougall contributes creative, in-the-pocket percussion, Batstone's bass is a solid, melodic undercurrent and his guitar and mandolin provide color and texture, while Bennett's solid, warm acoustic guitar playing speaks for itself. Vocally, Bennett provides the sophistication and warmth while Batstone's less silky, more plaintive sound is the perfect vehicle for the earthy "Every Grain of Sand," and "Until Your Love Broke Through." Of course, there's the well-known tempo change and guitar break in "Presence of the Lord." Keaggy – a true icon of the era - nails it.

If nothing else, Jesus Music Again serves as a reminder that there was a day when music came from the heart, traveled through the soul, and didn't forget to check in at the brain. Artistry wasn't sacrificed at the altar of message, and excellence was what we thought was expected. No drum machines, no synthetic sound, and – thankfully – no auto-tuning! Come and hear music made by people who love God.

-Bert Saraco

4 Tocks