Monday, May 09, 2005

Dig Adam Again

"The earth is hard,
The treasure fine."

10 Songs by Adam Again

First, they were Lost in a World of Time (ref), trying to find their voice. Then 10 Songs by Adam Again were released as a triumph in dance-rock of the mid-to-late 80's. The first time I had heard of this band, a mentor had retrieved me this tape from the bottom of the bargain bin and figured that I might enjoy it. Thus began my slow-burn love for this obscure, underground funk-rock band from SoCal. I was probably 14 or 15 at the time and had grave misgivings about anything related to disco. I incorrectly tossed it aside, returning to listen a couple times for the next few years before the music started to grow on me like George Costanza. It was all over the map, stylistically. But drum machines and a lyricon were de riguerin this foray, as well as the gospel group adding backing vocals and some moody confessionals. The theme of the album - but not necessarily the tone of the album - was moralistic, advising against divorce on behalf of the children - the purported main victims. It also dealt with the relational subterfuge that is "The Trouble With Lies" on, I believe, two songs. It was the "10th Song," however, that would catch \the world off-guard if it was paying attention. Regardless, Mac Powell of Third Day (probably last time I'll refer to them in my Hall of Fame) was and brought along Gene Eugene (principal songwriter, lead vox, guitar and the most wonderful keys - more on that later) to re-cut it as "I Remember You" on the worship-centered - and masterful community experiment - City on A Hill. The lyric for that song was a sparse meditation that probably should be replayed in post-modern churches everywhere during the Lord's Supper. It is enveloped in a angelic chorus provided by dancing diva and AA harmonist Riki Michele and some post-apocalyptic helicopter blades. It was all very ethereal, eerie, and mesmerizing.

I remember you,
I remember that your body was broken
and I remember that your blood was spilled
And I remember that you
Didn't have to do it.


It was on Homeboys that Adam Again would emerge as a great jam band with tight songs added to their funk and R&B influences when they included Johnny Knox as their live drummer. It messed me up to learn that most jam bands don't know how to rock. I call Adam Again a jam band in the sense that they wrote and performed their music as a band. They would start from a chord progression or a musical idea, a riff or a melody, jammed on the spot and members would add parts and converse musically as it fit. But the song structure was tight and the albums did not serve as mere fodder to tide the fans over to their next performance. The concerts - as well as the albums - were few and far between so each one served as a stand-alone. Each record and show had to guarantee the biggest bang for the fewest bucks. Of course, it helped that Gene ran a much-utilized studio out of his basement, was fast-becoming a much-in-demand engineer, producer and keyboard specialist. Not to mention that he co-ran a studio that produced the biggest and best names in the early days of Christian alternative rock in Brainstorm (The truly good ones weren't gonna get any mainstream attention. Daniel Amos, the 77's, Undercover, not to mention the first-fruits of gospel rap, Soldiers For Christ, Freedom of Soul [Who guested Brainwash Projects on their second album. That's right, Pigeon John.], and Dynamic Twins as well as the country-influenced, Americana pioneering "super-group" Lost Dogs).

If my jam-band diss didn't upset you, maybe this will: Funk-rock bands tend to be a let-down (There were a few good tracks on Soulfood 76's debut, and Red Hot Chili Peppers will always be the exception to the rule - the funk-rock to end all funk-rock.) in that their funk doesn't seem to be legitimate, but rather a way to pass for some sort of White street cred. But this band has the goods without trying to exploit or flaunt them, without using funk as a novelty act would. The 70's influences were in the background, in the interplay between the rock elements of John Knox and Paul Valadez on the bass. But the spirit of '76 lived on in the clavs, Fenders, and Moogs Gene played like nobody's (Nobody's) business. "This Band Is Our House" is the best example of my inadequate description of a good jam band. Adam Again refers to itself as a house where - at the least - Gene Eugene feels at home. It all comes tumbling down (musically, that is) when Gene calls for a break-down and John mistakes that for a stop. Everything crashes before Gene laughs and explains himself. They pick up right where they left off (this is the released version, by the way) as if nothing happens. And the song is just fun rock&roll, not heavy, not necessarily sloppy, just the picture of some four guys and a girl having fun doing what they know God created them for.

"Homeboys" opens up the record as a sort of memoir of growing up in his early 70's mixed-race neighborhood, the sense of belonging ("He taught me how to write on the wall and I taught him how to play chess / Some kind of strange urban link."), and the trouble that entered and shattered their world in the form of a drive-by that killed Gene's best friend. The theme picks up half-way through with their cover of "Inner-City Blues." Not as good as the original, but really, who comes close? (And if you don't know...) On "Bad News on the Radio" they continue in that vein with a sort of gritty, urban take on an "A Day in the Life" concept with some modern jazz elements to boost. It's almost "Homeboys, Pt. 2 - What Could've Happened." Consider: "Homeboy tried to burn me / Had to give him what he had asked for... / I don't know the reason / the reason for my troubles... / I know you tried to warn me." The titular bad news concerns a helicopter chase on the expressway (I guess it's called a "freeway" out there. The interstate.) Gene would later say that after bringing in Doug Webb, who played with Miles back in the day, he asked what it was like to play with the legend. After pausing for a bit, he answered, "A lot like this." Gene must have taken that to his grave.

"Hide Away," written by the Choir's drummer and resident poet, continues in the band's confessional nature in addressing and questioning the reclusive nature of the partners within the marital relationship as well as the songwriter's own clumsy hands. The focus is on the melancholy and utter loneliness that results in her absence.

Summer is Winter
Flowers wither
Stars fade away
When you turn away
When you hide your eyes, love
Skies above become grey
When you turn away
When you hide away


Whereas "Homeboys" focused on the street level, Dig dug "Deep" into the recesses of the soul to produce a treasure worth treasuring. Although ostensibly about the divorce that Gene and Riki were heading towards, the music was about the emotional toll taken in the wake of the separation and the search for meaning in those dark times, not le divorce itself. The disc is filled with such archetypical images - digging, card playing (fate and relationships interplayed in fate and loss), water - as would make Carl Jung proud. It also helps to make the album universal. It's a work of pure art, taking specific, personal experiences and expressing them in an accessible language so that many can take claim these opuses as their own.

The disc starts with a barn-stormer. "Deep" begins the theme of this album with stream-of-conscience poetry and a funky start/stop second guitar, mediating the Author into the mystery of the story. "Girl ghost is in the stairway / She likes it when I rub my eyes... I don't want to / you don't want to / we don't want to know / And dying on the cross / for the sick and the loss / is the Lover that I long to know." "It Is What It Is (What It Is)" presaged the most common answer by NBA stars, maybe in an attempt to avoid questions a la Dylan (Probably about their indie rock within the bloated and convellent Contemporary Christian Music scene and the Christian bookstores they sold through.). "Ask a stupid question / you get a sideways glance." "Dig" begins with a pulsing Fender and slowly burns. Riki adds her sweetly melancholy melody on the second verse, Gene adds another vocal harmony slightly later and towards the end they fill in with guitars, drums, and bass.

Consult the cards to measure time
the earth is hard,
the treasure fine...
Will the eagle fly
if the sky's untrue
do the faithful sigh
because they are so few

Gene Eugene has a nasal voice often compared to REM's Michael Stipe. On this album, however, he wraps his vocals around the lyrics like a down blanket on a cold night and the additional harmonics of the Rhodes and Riki put him in a warm atmosphere, certainly in songs like "Dig." On "Hopeless, Etc." Gene stretches his vocals - some would say unconvincingly - to add dimension to the lyrics. "Hopeless, Etc." is ego-focused. Each verse begins with and expands on an elongated "I'm," holding at times for several bars and filling-out with 'hopeless,' 'useless,' and 'worthless' with a coda on the '-less.' It's a worship song for the Me Generation. And it's a rocker, albeit one that also carries thos song-building effects, this time starting fresh with every verse. "Songwork" is about the difficulty of writing that perfect song, or sometimes any song.

"Worldwide" &"Walk Between the Raindrops," apparently, is about the social ills that face us as a world. The murder of Headman Shabalala (of Ladysmith Black Mozambo) and the plight of the homeless are raised to question our incapacity to compassionately act, suggesting that if we can merely explain the situation without grieving alongside the Holy Spirit on this, we are as likely to walk between raindrops. And the jump-kick on "Worldwide" kicks butt. "Keep your holy hair in place / the wind is gonna blow / the humble and the poor keep breathing."

Rumored to be a big influence on Over the Rhine (who's brilliant new Drunkard's Prayer is a beautiful counter-point to the themes on this album and who played the screeching and haunting guitar coda from this song that was in itself stolen from Hendrix) "River on Fire" is the only song that seems to speak of the ensuing separation between husband and wife indirectly or not. The burning of the over-pollutted Cuyahoga River in Cleveland serves as the self-referential metaphor. The cello plays its part to leave the song druding slowly along, methodically pulling us to gaze at the inevitable crash and slow burn of a feral mass of water. After the guitar chord drops a chill in the spine, we are treated with a rollicking "That Hill." Lyrically, it's again about failure, but musically it's a blast with an engaging melody and riffs galore.


Honestly, I'm going to complete this review in a couple weeks. Perhaps longer if I can secure another copy of this record via eBay. I'll periodically come back to this. I probably shouldn't have started undertaking these essays by beginning with my ultimate favorite. Peace,

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