Thursday, January 11, 2007

Dream Again – Phil Keaggy

I’ve reviewed two other Phil Keaggy CDs since June (Jammed! and Roundabout) and that’s because Phil has been putting them out at a prodigious rate! Phil always seemed to have a lot of music in him and, when I was a frequenter of the Keaggy Fan email list we would occasionally hear about the things that he was working on which we might never see or hear because of record company things. Phil was really hampered by the CCM machine and when he went independent the hope was that he could get out from under their rules and some of their desire for Christian-Radio-friendly songs, that is, songs that say Jesus enough to please the programmers. I always suspected that there was more to Phil than we were seeing. One advantage, though, to the record company rules was that it restricted the number of things Phil could put out and, perhaps, kept the overall quality higher. Dream Again, Phil’s first vocal album in a few years, has its moments but overall doesn’t quite measure up to what he has shown himself to be capable of in the past.

The playing is, of course, spectacular – this is Phil Keaggy we’re talking about after all. But the songs are mostly uninspired. In fact, a lack of inspiration is one of the themes of this album. Two of the songs, “Dream Again” and “Revive Me” travel a similar lyrical path – after years of playing and singing and hassles with record companies and others, Phil felt dry and needed to “dream again” about his career and his music. These two songs, ironically, are the two strongest songs on the album and I really enjoy them. In fact, I caught the chorus from “Dream Again” running around in my head this morning in the shower. I find myself in a bit of a dry place right now and the song spoke to me.

The others, though, mostly fall flat. Some of them, like the songs about and directed to two of Phil’s sisters, are just too autobiographical. They are too much about him and his sister, even referencing where they live and a certain reunion where they got together. When songs get so specific they lose universality. If I’m going to listen to a song about sibling love I want to be able to put myself in the song (as I did in “Dream Again”) and think about my brother. In these songs you can’t do that. The rhyme scheme also comes across as contrived and there isn’t the sort of depth in the lyric that I look for these days. In listening to the text you get the sense that Phil used certain words just because they rhymed. And once you start listening for that on an album, it’s all over. Now lyrical depth was never Phil’s strong suit but in this album he seems to have set the bar lower than normal. Bono once said something like it is the task of the artist to help us feel things. If that's true (and I kind of like that idea) then most of the songs on Dream Again don't accomplish that.

So, there are moments on Dream Again when I cringe at some of the lyrics and there are other moments when I think “yeah, that’s the Phil I was waiting to hear” but those moments don’t occur with the frequency that I was used to in the glory days of Crimson and Blue, Find Me in These Fields and Beyond Nature.


Anonymous said...

A musician, if he's a messenger, is like a child who hasn't been handled too many times by man, hasn't had too many fingerprints across the brain. That's why music is so much heavier than anything you ever felt. (hendrix. Life Mag.1969)

-denver christian's basketball team that never scored one basket-

Richard said...

I agree with your review. But those two songs (Dream Again and Revive Me) are worth the purchase. Really, Phil could make a CD recording of national anthems and I would most likely purchase it.