Dig Here Said the Angel

Album Reviews

True Tunes September 2013

By John J Thompson

I feel this "review" needs to be a bit different from my usual fare. I'm going to assume that the hardcore Daniel Amos fans already have this set - and that in fact most of them helped it come to be through their support of DA's Kickstarter campaign. Since I can't imagine an active fan of the band to be anything less than breathless about this record I am going to target these next few paragraphs toward the following two groups of people:

  • People who used to love and follow Daniel Amos but have lost touch for one reason or another
  • People who, tragically, have yet to hear them

    I suppose there is a third group in the back of my mind; those handful of people who have heard the band but somehow didn't "get" them. Maybe it's their time.

    I shall also henceforth drop the pretense that this offering of mine is a "review" in the classic sense of the word. Think of it as an introduction, a contextualization, even a meditation - and think of me as your tour guide. I've been following Daniel Amos since I was about 13. Along with a very small cadre of other obscure artists, and one internationally famous one, they shaped my imagination, inspired my pen, and made me dream of someday writing a song that would have the same electrifying and soul-stirring effect on some other kid that they had on me. So sure, this may be a valentine, but it is an incredibly well-informed valentine written by someone who would certainly have earned a PhD in "alternative, faith-fueled, culturally relevant, God-haunted, rock, pop, folk, and country music" if such a degree existed. Yes, kids, I'm an expert on this band and the scene they have helped to inspire. You can trust me. I'm a professional.

    But here's the thing, being the super-fan that I am only means that I am predisposed to love their newest record, not that I actually will. It's dangerous business having heroes in this world. It's been a long time since the band had even seen each other, let alone played a gig. There had been health issues, financial challenges, geographical changes and every other kind of challenge facing the band. Was this going to really live up to the high standard they had set for themselves? I'll be honest right here; I was just hoping that it would be "pretty good." A "pretty good" DA record would still be better than most other records released in any decade. But the first time I heard Dig Here, Said the Angel - and I promise you I am not exaggerating here - I cried.

    I'm not a big crier.

    This record isn't just among Daniel Amos' best, it's not just one of the best independent records of the year, it's not even just the best faith-based rock project of the last decade or so. No, this is the kind of record lives are changed by. This is the kind of record that some 20 year old out there needs to hear right now. This is the kind of record that modern fans of Blitzen Trapper, Amos Lee, The Beatles, Alt-J, Elvis Costello, The Replacements, My Morning Jacket and Band of Horses - or even Casting Crowns - need to hear. This was exactly the record I needed to hear this summer. If this world wasn't so jacked up this would be already be certified Gold.

    It's been a dozen years since Daniel Amos released an album. A dozen years! While Terry Scott Taylor has certainly stayed busy with solo projects, some of the best Lost Dogs records in years, and some way-under-the-radar production music, the band that first introduced his unique in every way voice to the world back in 1974 has been silent for way too long. Some things get rusty when not used. Muscles stiffen with age. Colors fade. Not so with Daniel Amos. Dig Here, Said the Angel, may be their best album yet - only time will tell. With a million records at my Spotify fingertips I can listen to anything and yet I frequently find myself choosing to stream several entries in the DA catalog. Without exaggeration I have probably heard Horrendous Disc (1980,) the entire 4-album Alarma! Chronicles set (1980-1986,) Darn Floor Big Bite (1987,) Motorcycle (1993) and Mr. Beuchner's Dream (2001) more than a thousand times collectively. I'm still not tired of them. It's amazing to hear that every member of the band; Ed McTaggart (drums,) Tim Chandler (bass,) Greg Flesch (guitar,) Rob Watson (keys,) and Jerry Chamberlain (guitar,) have never sounded better. I got to spend a bit of time with them in the studio and was struck by how tight, confident and just plain cool they sounded.

    Dig Here accomplishes something veteran bands strive for but rarely achieve. It references, literally, everything fans ever loved about the band's music and yet clearly stakes out new territory in a remarkably contemporary and relevant way. Daniel Amos has been known for a few staples:

  • Sarcasm / wit / satire
  • Confronting difficult issues (death, fear, superstition, science, existential angst)
  • Diving into the deep end of the theological pool
  • Caterwauling
  • Honoring their musical influences (Beach Boys, Beatles, Dylan, Costello, The Tubes, etc)
    That's all here, but with a dose of grace, encouragement and generally positive energy that, while not absent from their previous repertoire, was certainly not a consistent trait. Christian music, you must remember, was full of shiny, happy, ridiculous music. Daniel Amos' job was to be the rock in the church's shoe; the fly in the CCM ointment. They dared to quote texts other than the Bible or C.S. Lewis. They clearly studied the greats of Classic Rock and yet never felt the need or desire to be the "Christian" version of any other band. The more they shocked and offended the cloistered Christian music cognoscenti the more obscure they became. Sometimes it seemed they were intentionally trying to make it as difficult for anyone to accept them as they possibly could. Like the rebel at the school playground that wanted to be in charge of his own rejection, Daniel Amos did everything wrong to make it in either Christian or "mainstream" music. And though the breaks between records have been long, they have never stopped doing their thing.

    Clearly, this time around the band seems less interested in making big statements, asserting their reason for being, or raging against anything in particular. Instead, this record feels like a heartfelt offering for their longsuffering fans; folks who have been going through the pain of aging, the loss of loved ones, struggles with loneliness, addiction, divorce, failure, poverty or self-reliance. Terry spends a lot of time on the road, playing house concerts and sitting in diners listening to people. He has recently come through the same kind of financial and health challenges that plague us all. Instead of enduring his trials alone, however, his fans stepped up to help. When a long-time friend of Terry's circulated news that he was in need his tribe rushed to throw a few bucks in the hat. For those of us in that tribe it felt a lot like the end of It's A Wonderful Life seeing a man's needs get met so completely, and tangibly, by fans that felt more like friends. It is my strong hunch that Dig Here, Said the Angel, is Terry's - and the band's - heartfelt "thanks."

    Musically the collection, recorded in Nashville by Choir member and fellow Lost Dog Derri Daugherty, is rich, eclectic and satisfying. It is completely consistent with the band's landmark records - referencing everything from the angular post-punk of Alarma! to the psychedelic ambience of Motorcycle. Each member's identity is felt in their tracks and the whole thing is recorded with remarkable fidelity. To my ears it is the best sounding Daniel Amos record yet. It certainly begs to - and is worthy to - be played on a good stereo or enjoyed with high-end headphones. The layers are perfectly arranged and expertly mixed. Even Terry's vocal - which can be abrasive if not handled appropriately - is warm and invited. I've compared this set to his vocals going back to the first records and I honestly think he sounds better than he has ever sounded.

    All of that great tone and all of those expert musical performances, however, are in the service of some of the most thoughtful and heart-warming lyrics I've heard in the rock genre. Though the themes are subtle, the message is clear. Dig Here is about suffering, struggle, pain, dying and rising again. It's a feel-good record about death, for crying out loud!

    The opening track "Forward In Reverse" gets things going with a decidedly Sgt Pepper-esque echo as the lyric describes a vision of the kind of inversion promised by Jesus of the coming Kingdom of heaven. Death is reversed, sins are wiped away, the last get in first and everything culminates in a return to the kind of "holy, holy love" that existed between God and man, and man and woman, before the fall. It's a lightly psychedelic meditation on the Justice of God and the ultimate redemption believers hopefully still look for. It's a surprisingly positive and charming opening salvo that leads right into a long set of songs that bring the listener right back into the brokenness of the here and now.

    The second song, "Jesus Wept" is where I lost it. Sure, I was dealing with some personal family pain and fear, but who isn't. With a classic pop riff that would have made every member of the Travelling Wilburys giddy, Terry reminds us that "before the latter reign, before the healing came, Jesus wept." The implication is powerful. The singer exposes his own vulnerability and immediately connects to a part of the listener that even most DA fans probably did not see coming.

    I found my masterpiece in a discount bin
    I pound against the wall of my aging skin
    Crying "Let me out"
    "Let me out"

    Who'll untie the ropes that restrain my wings
    And help me understand when death still stings
    I'm crying "Let me out"
    You're saying "No, not yet"
    Before he danced Jesus wept
    (Jesus Wept)

    Seriously, by the first chorus I was choked up. By the bridge the tears were streaming and I decided to stop fighting them. Jesus wept, after all. He knows all about pain. I know that, but hearing it sung to me in this way was powerful.

    The theme continues.

    On the title track, in another dream-sequence, an angel takes the singer on a tour of his own pain. Though sometimes the suffering is just too much and we just want to be taken away - to shed our mortal coil and see Jesus face to face - the angel reminds us that it's not our time yet. In "Our New Testament Best" I expected some satire, but instead Taylor looks at the effect grace can have on a relationship. It's one of the most unique, and in its own way sweetest, love songs I've heard. "Love, Grace, and Mercy" is the confession of a man who is done trying to manage his own sin and is finally experiencing the intoxicating bliss of God's relentless pursuit of his heart. This kind of realization is so different than religion.

    You've got your methods
    I'm done with trying to guess all your moves
    I'm going where you want me to go
    I've got nothing left to lose
    Now I don't wanna suffer
    But that's in fact the nature of the beast
    If you want to get to higher ground
    You got to get there on your knees
    (Love, Grace and Mercy)

    There's that pain and suffering thing again. And the track is anything but morose. When the church bells chime at the end the song becomes a worship moment. Like the "Banquet at the World's End" from 1993's Motorcycle, but it's happening here and now. Powerful stuff.

    A bit of the old DA snarl returns, with an appropriately self-deprecating post-punk wink on "Now That I've Died." Again with the visions, the singer is sending a letter to a loved one from the other side of the veil. Then the home-stretch begins. "We'll All Know Soon Enough" sounds like a gothic western in which a wayward pilgrim, who was likely never set on the right path in the first place, decides that maybe the trials of life mean that there is no God up there. "Waking Up Under Water" recalls the frantic pace of something from 1982's Doppelganger as it offers a more oblique or obscure dream about baptism, death, or something like that. In the best DA tradition, you get the point without necessarily understanding the specifics.

    "The Use of Adversity" then gets very specific.

    My heartbeat is the pounding of your iron hand breaking me
    Who knows where this shattering love is taking me
    'Cause you're much too small if you're not a Mystery
    So don't send me rain if I bloom in drought
    No don't send me certainty if somehow it's best for me to doubt
    (The Use of Adversity)

    But despite all the confidence and assurances, the fear, anxiety, depression or other self-destructive emotions often return. "The Ruthless Hum of Dread" admits to lingering confusion despite faith. It's a long song, clocking in at over 6 minutes, and it ranges from full production to near a capella vulnerability. I'd have to quote the whole song, and I won't do that, but it reads like a cross between Poe, Blake and Lewis' The Problem of Pain. Just stunning. It's a movie with no pictures.

    And then there's the closer, "The Sun Shines on Everyone," an unabashed hands-in-the-air anthem. Lyrically Taylor returns to book of Matthew - and in fact to the same chapter (5) that includes the incredibly subversive "beatitudes" that I can't help but notice are lingering in the background of the album's first song. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the gentle. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and the persecuted. Later in that same sermon Jesus tells us this additional bit of counter-intuitive wisdom:

    44 But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:44-45 NASB)

    Daniel Amos just took us on a tour of the beautiful, confusing, lavish world of God's grace - the kind of grace that we really only experience in our brokenness. God knows when we are hurting, and he hurts with us. He knows when we are afraid, and he comforts us. He tries his best to remind us that this world in its broken form is not our home and that death is not the end. We're just so busy we fail to hear him. I've long known that Terry Scott Taylor has a gift, but it seems that something very true and special happened when he allowed himself to suffer and to be weak within the context of an extended community. This is important stuff worthy of a massive audience. The fact that this band would put this much effort into a project like this, knowing that it would likely be heard by just a handful of die-hard fans, is amazing to me.

    At one point during one of my visits to the studio Tim Chandler and I were sitting on the couch in the control room while Terry was cutting vocals and actually tweaking lyrics as he went. He carried a stack of legal pads and a pen with him the entire time I was there. It was clear to me that it was very important to him that every line was perfect. After the end of a take Tim leaned over to me and quietly said "This is the best stuff he has ever written." I think Tim was right.

    Please listen for yourself, and then head over to www.DanielAmos.com and order this record AND the new 2-disc remastered version of their incredible 1980 album Alarma! This kind of work deserves our support.

    Patheos.com October 2013

    By Fred Sanders

    "I sell records worldwide now that I've died," boasts the singer in one of the tracks on the new Daniel Amos album, Dig Here Said the Angel. The character is a musician, obviously, but postmortem, and somehow (As a ghost? In a dream?) he's assuring his still-living spouse that everything's great for him since his death:

    I lost my stiff, stiff neck and my hard, hard heart,
    My self-respect is off the charts,
    Just hanging out here on the other side
    Dead to my pride, now that I've died!

    He doesn't say much more about his heavenly musical career, aside from mentioning that "the music round here is just my style," which seems as important as the fact that "the cuisine here is pretty fantastic." What he really wants to communicate is the unthinkable transformation he's experienced: "Imagine me all honorable and faithful," and

    I love my neighbor as I love myself,
    I'm loved by God and I've got my health.
    I'm going strong and becoming wise:
    I couldn't lie if I tried, now that I've died!

    The singer's so excited about life in this kingdom after death ("the rich serve the poor, and the poor are the rich... it's kind of hard to describe") that his line about selling records is a bit of a throwaway; clearly his mind is on bigger and better things. For a 5-minute rock song that doesn't take itself too seriously, it's quite a glimpse of the beatific vision.

    But in another song on the record, Terry Taylor (the songwriter and vocalist on all but one of the tracks) sighs in a more down-to-earth way, "I found my masterpiece in a discount bin." I have no doubt he's singing as himself this time, because I know I've found Terry Taylor's masterpieces in discount bins too often.

    What's the masterpiece that was thus unjustly remaindered? Taylor's been making records for nearly 40 years now, so there are plenty of them to choose from. Standout moments in the discography include 1986's Fearful Symmetry, a lyrically dense and musically lavish collection of songs unlike anything I've heard elsewhere; or 1987's remarkable Darn Floor Big Bite, which I can only describe (apologies to T.S. Eliot) as a raid on the inarticulate with post-punk equipment always deconstructing itself in the general clatter of percussion and undulating guitar lines. Or maybe the Daniel Amos masterpiece is 2001's Mr. Buechner's Dream, a 2-disc, 34-track argument for the compatibility of faith and imagination (I've praised it before, here). Or one of the other albums could be the masterpiece; even among the super-fans there's little agreement about which one's best.

    Speaking of super-fans, this is a kick-started album that was financed by fans who couldn't wait any longer for an album by Daniel Amos, and they -okay, we- got our money's worth. The band is tight, the production is good, and the songwriting has layer upon layer of the musical influences that Taylor and his bandmates (Greg Flesch, Tim Chandler, and Ed McTaggart, with a half-dozen helpers on various tracks) have appropriated.

    Two contrasting themes dominate the lyrics: on the one hand is grace, which shows up in a series of short lists, repetitions, and triads throughout the record ("back again to love; holy, holy love," "mercy mercy mercy on me," "love, grace, and mercy," etc). It's the steady background, and keeps breaking through throughout the record.

    But on the other hand is doubt: grace itself is "disguised as adversity," and the experience of relentless difficulty makes this mature singer rehearse complaints such as:

    Another bad guy wins,
    More good friends die;
    They mounted up like eagles,
    Now they're dropping like flies.

    Life has been hard, and Taylor pretty straightforwardly declares that he is ready to die: "I pound against the wall of my aging skin, crying 'Let me out!'" And he laments that he is "sealed in this Lazarus grave with nothing else to do." The title track (it's based on a saying of St. John of the Cross -Daniel Amos fans are spoiled, and get to take this pervasive allusiveness and wide reading for granted by this point) is a deeply ambiguous oracle from an angel who either comforts or threatens: "I'll tell you straight... don't plan to go out in style." The most atmospheric song on the record, "The Ruthless Hum of Dread," bids fair to portray the sound of approaching death: "groaning for transition," "rhythm driven by the bass drum thump of meds," and then

    I try to listen again
    To your voice drowning in
    My blood flowing hot as lead,
    As night fears slip in between
    Hissing sheets and springs
    And in the folds of my sibilant bed.

    If you turn it up loud and listen close, it's nothing less than the aurality of mortality. A little music from heaven comes in at the very end, but it's only for those who have ears to hear. If you haven't tuned in sympathetically to the buzzing and humming drone of the patience that can only be exercised by the old, you won't hear the distant angelic chorale.

    And maybe it's not there. At his rawest, Taylor is willing and able to state his doubts as bluntly as that. In a song that hints at all the highs and lows of a life that veers between the cynical and the miraculous, Taylor throws it down for the skeptic and levels the playing field:

    There may be no heaven, no;
    There may be no hell, no;
    There may be no place to go, but
    We'll all know soon enough.

    For all the darkness and grittiness of these parts of Dig Here Said the Angel, its overall tone is not bleak. One reason is that Daniel Amos has a lot of musical ideas, and the minor keys can't contain the jangle and bounce they want to play. But a deeper reason is that Terry Taylor has all the theological resources he needs to hold these doubts and difficulties in context. They really are as bad as he says they are, but he knows there's something bigger and brighter behind them.

    He knows that God's mercy shows up in our lives as reversals and contradictions: "I saw the last get in first... by moving forward in reverse, and back again to love." He knows that when "we get dressed in our New Testament best" we are doing the opposite of what comes naturally to us, even after decades of practice at donning that garment again and again. He knows the kind of abandon that it takes to throw yourself on the mercy of God, to say

    I'm still the problem
    And not some other person, place, or thing.
    So to hell with my excuses,
    I've got no one else to blame.

    Because he knows this, he can say directly to the source of "Love, Grace, and Mercy," that "you're much too small if you're not a Mystery," so "don't send me certainty if somehow it's best for me to doubt." And "if you just say the word, I will get exactly what I don't deserve." He knows, in the words of the closing anthem, that "the rain falls on everyone, a common grace for everyone." And he has the perspective that comes from thinking for forty years about the two little words in the shortest verse in the Bible:

    There's not a holy man
    Who doesn't know grief well,
    Or think the road to heaven
    Doesn't pass through hell.
    They've cried 'Let me out,'
    They've heard 'No, not yet."
    They know before he danced, Jesus wept.

    Before the latter rain, Jesus wept.
    Before the healing came, Jesus wept.
    Before he paid in full every debt,
    Jesus wept.

    Everybody ought to click right through, right now, and buy Dig Here Said the Angel. It's a wise album, with line after line of honest writing. It's incomparable music that could only be made by a band with this many miles on their odometer and this much fuel still in the tank.

    Patheos.com November 2013

    By Chad Thoas Johnston

    Dedicated to Billy Corgan, who challenged Christians to "make better music" and branch out beyond U2's musical blueprints in an interview with CNN in September. I challenge you to buy and bury yourself in this album, Billy; it sounds nothing like U2-in fact, Daniel Amos influenced U2!

    Just as the films Sunset Boulevard and American Beauty are narrated by dead men, so too is the Daniel Amos song "Now That I've Died." Unlike these undead narrators, however, the protagonist of the song is literally better off dead.

    "I lost my stiff, stiff neck and my hard, hard heart / my self-respect is off the charts," he sings. "Just hanging out here on the Other Side / dead to my pride, now that I've died."

    The song simmers for most of its duration and ultimately reaches a boil. In five minutes, the band reimagines the resurrection life, and succeeds in clearing the clouds of harpists who spend all of eternity bored out of their God-fearing gourds.

    "Now That I've Died" is one of many highlights on Dig Here Said the Angel, Daniel Amos's fourteenth proper studio recording in a career that spans almost forty years. To fund the record, the band launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2012, hoping to raise $14,000; fans donated over $32,000.

    The result is my favorite album of 2013 thus far.

    Dig Here Said the Angel finds sixty-three-year-old frontman and lyricist Terry Scott Taylor exploring aging in relation to faith as one who knows he's no longer the spry, spring chicken who sang on Daniel Amos's self-titled debut in 1976. At the same time, he knows he isn't dead yet either-and even when he does die, he apparently plans to live quite triumphantly.

    Fans of Daniel Amos's Eagles-influenced '70s albums, the band's featherless, New Wave incarnation on the Alarma Chronicles quadrilogy in the '80s, and 1993's Sgt. Pepper-esque Motor Cycle know that the band reinvents itself with each record. While Dig Here Said the Angel finds Taylor and Co. evolving once again, it retains the essence of Daniel Amos. Ambitious, mischievous, at times menacing, and mercilessly melodic, the album calls to mind the works of The Beatles, Talking Heads, Elvis Costello, and Nick Cave, all while sounding exactly like none of those artists.

    I find myself attracted to the gravity of this record-not so much a heaviness as a sense of something dense and substantial. Each song deals with life, death, and life after death. Take, for example, "The Ruthless Hum of Dread." "In a pauper's field of dreams / I'm walking in between open-mouthed graves / anxious to be fed," Taylor sings. "And all my buried intentions are groaning for transition / in the raising of the dead."

    But a joy comes with this thematic heaviness, and reminds me of when rainfall and sunshine coexist. Consider the effortless, effervescent "Jesus Wept." "I found my masterpiece in the discount bin," Taylor sings. "I pound against the wall of my ancient skin / crying 'Let me out!' / 'Let me out!'"

    God's response to this request? "No, not yet."

    But suffering does not have the final word in "Jesus Wept." The lyric continues: "There's not a holy man who doesn't know grief well / or think the road to Heaven doesn't pass through Hell / they've cried 'Let me out' / they've heard 'No, not yet' / they know before he danced, Jesus wept." In Daniel Amos's capable hands, suffering becomes a dark bend in life's road en route to the New Jerusalem-an inevitable, but finite stretch of hellish highway.

    Another album highlight, "The Uses of Adversity," features a wonderfully wobbly bass line by Tim Chandler that onomatopoetically recalls the words of James 1:6, in which "one who doubts is like a wave of the sea." Instead of attempting to oust doubt from its perch, Taylor embraces uncertainty in the song's lyric.

    "Don't send me rain if I bloom in drought," he sings. "No, don't send me certainty / if somehow it's best for me to doubt." For Taylor to write such a lyric-or pray such a prayer, really-is an act of trust; a vote of confidence in God's unorthodox methods.

    In the song "We'll All Know Soon Enough," Taylor defines doubt as temporary-another form of suffering that has a shelf life, expiring when we do. He sings the verses from the perspective of those who believe, but reconsider when other explanations for their circumstances seem easier to swallow.

    As the band uncorks a combustible chorus, Taylor issues a response to these people: "There may be no Heaven, no, no, no / There may be no Hell, no / There may be no place to go / but we'll all know soon enough." He continues, "If what your mother said was true / though Old Testament and cruel / did she serve you one too many drinks of the hard, hard stuff? / Well, we'll all know soon enough."

    When the world continually serves us slugs of the "hard, hard stuff"-the sort of suffering that sets us reeling-belief in a benevolent God seems like an absurd proposition. Even Taylor cannot help but question the nature of God in "The Use of Adversity": "My God, my God, have you forsaken me / or is this grace disguised as adversity?"

    Although he initially echoes Christ's words on the cross, a part of him still trusts God, and wonders if his suffering might serve as a sacrament, drawing him nearer to his Maker. How many times, after all, do curses reveal themselves as blessings in hindsight?

    "We'll all know soon enough," the song says. In the meantime, we will settle for the perspective of an undead narrator who can tell us what the view looks like from the Other Side. "I'm never cynical, but still a little sarcastic / by the way the cuisine here is pretty fantastic," Taylor sings on "Now That I've Died"-more like "Now That I've Lived" if you ask me.

    Chad Thomas Johnston is a slayer of word dragons who resides in Lawrence, Kansas, with his wife Rebekah, their daughter Evangeline, and five felines. He is a regular contributor to Image Journal's "Good Letters" blog at Patheos.com. His writings have also appeared in The Baylor Lariat and at CollapseBoard.com, home to ex-Melody Maker critic/Nirvana-biographer Everett True. In May of 2013, eLectio Publishing released Johnston's writing debut, a whimsical memoir titled Nightmarriage.

    HM Magazine 2013

    4 stars out of 5
    By Dan Macintosh

    Daniel Amos' latest album, Dig Here Said the Angel, finds the veteran band in fine form with a sound both vintage and modern. As usual, these songs offer the combination of Terry Taylor's genius lyrics backed by a group of sometimes underrated musicians. Taylor's best new lyrics are inspired by shortest verse in the Bible, "Jesus Wept." It finds him meditating upon Christ's humanity, leaving him feeling far less self-conscious about his own daily human struggles. He knows this life isn't always fair when he sings, "Another bad guy wins/More good friends die/They mounted up like eagles/Now they're dropping like flies." We'd all like to honestly ask, "Death, where is thy sting?" but most of us simply can't ask that confidently. Taylor concurs by begging, "Help me understand when death still stings." Jesus, the man, did the only reasonable thing when observing the human condition He wept. So must we, sometimes.

    Cross Rhythms August 2013

    By Mike Rimmer

    Terry Taylor, the creative force behind American rock band Daniel Amos, has always enjoyed the juxtapositions and complexities of humanity and spirituality and explored them in his work. So it's no surprise that the opening lines of the band's new album on the song "Forward In Reverse" should begin with a list of ironic juxtapositions, "I found a haystack in a needle, I caught an angel in a lie, I saw a hypocrite in Heaven remove a log from both his eyes," etc, etc. But then so much of what Christ taught and the parables he shared turned everything on its head and it seems Taylor employs the same skill in a fashion that intrigues and provokes thought. This album is a double hitter as the band instantly impact you with intriguing lyrics and a musicality and catchy songs that immediately grab your attention and then somehow it has the power to grow on you with repeated listens. Not an easy feat to achieve.

    Daniel Amos have always had a huge helping of Beatles influences in their music and so this is awash with psychedelic period Beatles sounds and melodies even down to Tim Chandler's melodic style of bass playing and Greg Flesch's guitar work. The complexities and perplexities of life are married together as Taylor puzzles out the intersection of life and death, the confusion of injustices and the reality that the older we get, the less we can make sense out of some of our ordinary situations even in the midst of faith. All of these elements are wrapped up in his songwriting. There are so many highlights here from the epic title track to the blissed-out conclusion "The Sun Shines On Everyone" which brings the album to a close.

    "Our New Testament Best" sees Taylor delivering a song which sounds like the songwriting and vocal delivery of another Taylor, Steve! Like a lot of Daniel Amos albums, this latest one is deceptive! Whilst seeped in Beatlesy harmonies, melodies and musical elements, the band have their own strong personality which always comes through and beneath the surface there's Taylor worrying away at the dilemmas that tease at all of us. "Jesus Wept" deals with the disappointments and fears that ordinary life throws up whilst "We'll All Know Soon Enough" offers the hope of resolution in the afterlife. In a world of plastic, superficial, upbeat Christian music that feels more like a baby's dummy designed to keep us childlike and pacified, this feels more like mature Christian music aimed at those who aren't too afraid to ponder the deeper issues and not seek out superficial answers. It's another winner from a fearless band.