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Down Goes The Day
Chris Taylor
Rhythm House Records [1998]
reviewed by vertigo johnson

 

Down Goes The Day finally brings singer/songwriter Chris Taylor out of musical obscurity, into the light--and possibly into the limelight.

From 1991 to 1997 Taylor was the celebrated frontman for the now defunct modern rock band Love Coma. Although critically acclaimed in Christian indy rock circles, their two releases--Soul Rash and Language of Fools--suffered from anemic marketing budgets and tended to do poorly in retail settings.

Following the 1996 demise of Love Coma's record label (REX), Taylor began to look at his options. Last year when prospective Myrrh Records contract negotiations began to die on the vine, Taylor scuttled the band concept and launched out on a solo career. Down Goes The Day proves he made the right decision. Chris Taylor has made an accessible pop album that comes off as a hugely artistic endeavor. While Christian at its core, it refuses to pander to preconceived expectations. It is neither propagandistic nor offensive. And it sounds Big.

This past autumn, tracking on the 11-song CD began at Sunset Boulevard Studios in Brentwood, Tennessee with producer/mixer Steve Dady behind the console. Taylor played acoustic and electric rhythm guitar throughout the project, though the more noticeable fretwork was performed by Jerry McPherson (known primarily as Amy Grant's lead guitarist). Taylor also recruited longtime friend and Sixpence None The Richer founder Matt Slocum to add cello and acoustic guitar tracks. The best studio decision (and possibly a calculated marketing decision) came when Taylor invited Riki Michele (Adam Again) to sing backing vocals on 'Seahorse' and 'Down Goes The Day.'

Taylor's stated musical influences (Waterboys, Bono, Ian McCullough, Jeff Buckley, Bob Dylan) guide his strong vocal stylings, but his written lyrics are his own quirky brand. He excels at painting mental pictures: "the downtown of your senses," "I never knew you could give your soul a shower," "spiritual poets play on cheap guitars..." His fresh words range from picturesque ("round and round the story goes like a seahorse on the ocean floor") to succinctly clever ("yesterday's rush: tomorrow's blush") to blunt ("street corner preachers carry out their plans / with venom in their mouths and a Bible in their hands / yelling about Heaven and Hell / No love in their eyes").

The disc is consistently likeable, but my favorites are 'What Do you Want?', 'Seahorse,' and 'Already Forgotten The Name.'

'What Do You Want?' showcases Taylor's vocal range. It starts as a simple conversation to God ('You chose the mountains to stand glorious') that builds in intensity over the course of four and a half minutes. He repeats the song's title as a question to God several times, yet each iteration comes across as a different type of interrogative: At first, it seems Taylor might be asking, "In light of your immense creation, what could You possibly want from me?". Later, his soulful cry could easily be from an exasperated prodigal, hounded by a persistent Father. Finally the phrase settles subtly back and evokes, alternately, peace and resignation.

'Seahorse' stands as the strongest track because of its music. Here, guitars, mellotron strings and lush backing vocals by Chris Harris, Chris Rodriguez and Riki Michele swirl together into a satisfying example of how pop should sound.

'Already Forgotten The Name' will remind fans of Slightly Used, Taylor's Dylan-influenced demo session cassette that surfaced at the 1994 Cornerstone Festival. This new song chronicles a man's rise to fame that parallels a personal realization of having "already forgotten the Name above every name." A beautifully haunting violin interlude by David Davidson seems to borrow heavily from Bruce Cockburn's 'Indian Wars,' yet adds wonderfully to the plaintive song.

Taylor can also have fun: Down Goes The Day opens with an energetic pop single called 'God only Knows,' which has a catchy refrain and verses best described as danceable (just ask my two-year-old son). The first single, 'Deep Reasons Why' is expected to fare well this autumn in the AC/CHR markets. Also memorable is a 46-second bluesy outtake called 'The Right Shoes,' and a brilliant drum loop that jumpstarts 'Another Witness.'

The lyrics always point back to themes of redemption, isolation, and a constant implicit acknowledgement of the transcendent. The title cut closes with one of the main themes of the disc, "since the day you were born you were looking for hope / you looked everywhere but the end of your rope."

Down Goes The Day successfully navigates through both the pop/rock and acoustic/pop camps without appearing to straddle fences (in the same way the Wallflowers' Bringing Down The Horse can be pop-infused and consumer-ready yet satisfying in the headphones), yet I was left wanting to hear more 'less.' I would shell out another twelve bucks to hear the stripped down, one-man-and-his-guitar versions. I suppose this is not an indictment of the project, but rather praise of what's at the core of each of these melodies: a strong singer/songwriter who has a story waiting to be told. Perhaps Taylor can bring some of that basic simplicity to his forthcoming live concerts.

Incidentally, the 15-minute (!) 'hidden' track which closes the CD called "Salt Of The Earth" was recorded live, and entirely on the first take. Taylor said the quarter-hour-long beat poem was assembled 'on-the-spot' with the singer piecing together random verse clippings from his poetry journals propped up on music stands.

The CD also represents fledgling label Rhythm House Records' first effort at bringing a rock album to the CCM market. In an industry where a debut CD is expected to sell fewer than 15,000 units, Taylor's contribution will be warmly embraced, and probably find shelter in many an audiophile's disc changer. Don't be surprised if Down Goes The Day goes down as one of the year's gems.

 

 

photos above courtesy Rhythm House Records. Used by permission.


©1996-2003 Communiqué: A Quarterly Journal. All Rights Reserved.