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Keith Green - Topic

Jesus Commands Us to Go! Play

Adult contemporary rock & roller Keith Green was essentially a fundamentalist Christian, and it might seem odd to compare him to artists like Madonna, Karen Finley, Oliver Stone, Trent Reznor, or Paul Schrader. But however vast their differences with Green's politics and theology, all of the above agree with a central tenet of his aesthetic philosophy: that art is most effective when it refuses to shy away from uncomfortable truths, when it is willing to startle and shock its audience. That refusal to compromise his vision of truth drove Green -- as it has driven dozens of liberal musicians with an in-your-face attitude -- to found his own independant record label (modestly entitled Pretty Good Records). It also limited Green's audience -- like those of many secular shock-artists -- almost exclusively to those who agree with his version of absolute truth. This album (a collection of previously unreleased recordings which was compiled two years after Green's death) shows as well as any other why Green made his listeners uncomfortable: in the title track, Green declares that every Christian is commanded in the Bible to literally travel the world evangelizing. In another track, he sings with strident certainty, "Don't you wish you had the answers? Well, I know." This passionate conviction is readily apparent in Green's vocals, and in his dramatically flourishing performances on acoustic piano. The live tracks on this record are particularly impassioned (especially an impressive instrumental improvisation, entitled "Keith's Piano Prelude"), but unfortunately, producer Bill Maxwell has watered down this one-man show of intensity by overdubbing extraneous guitars, strings and background vocals. ~ Darryl Cater, Rovi

The Prodigal Son Play

Keith Green's widow, Melody, compiled this album a year after her husband's death in an airplane crash in 1982. The highlight of the record is unquestionably the twelve-minute rock symphony, "The Prodigal Son Suite." Green wrote this piece with the hope of completing a full-length rock opera based on Biblical stories. A virtuoso on piano even in his early 20s, Green and his orchestra tell much of the story with cinematically sweeping instrumental movements. When he does sing, Green plays the role of the prodigal son with an actor's passion (it's not surprising that the young Green was hired to write a film score -- or that he quit the project because the movie's content offended him). The rest of the album is a set of relatively uninventive MOR ballads, with the exception of a couple of Elton John-esque key-slamming rock numbers, "Keep All That Junk to Yourself" and "Only By Following Jesus." ~ Darryl Cater, Rovi

Songs for the Shepherd Play

Green's most mild-tempered record, Songs for the Shepherd, was released only two months before he and two of his small children were killed in an airplane crash in 1982. Earlier in his CCM career, Green had made a reputation for himself as something of a fiery prophet, condemning religious hypocrisy and compromise wherever he felt he saw it. In his last months, though, he had begun softening his approach (he published an essay warning Christians against developing a prophet complex, and confessed that he had been guilty of that arrogance himself). This album reflects that newfound softness. Billed as a collection of songs for praise and worship, the music alternates between childishly bouncy Sunday School melodies and soothingly gushing MOR string arrangements. In an unusual bout of eclecticism, Green has also included one twangy country & western tune ("Draw Me") and one darkly moaning black gospel number ("O God Our Lord"). With the exception of the unsettling hellfire imagery of the latter track, Green's lyrics are at their most relaxed and grateful here. ~ Darryl Cater, Rovi

So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt Play

Keith Green made a few waves in the CCM industry in the process of making this album, as he broke his contract with Sparrow Records in order to form his own record company. After turning down lucrative offers from other labels for fear they were satanic temptations, Green mortgaged his house to make this record, saying God wanted him to give his albums away to anyone who couldn't afford the sticker price. At concerts, some of his fans took advantage of the policy by taking off with armfuls of free records, but Green felt that he couldn't demand money for ministry. His controversial zeal was often more interesting than his music, and his mellow '70s piano rock is not particularly inventive. But the passionate intensity of his religious conviction puts a spark into his performances, and his sense of hippie humor (while less than witty) infuses his Biblical storytelling with a degree of freshness. Bob Dylan was a friend and fan of Green's during the folk superstar's period of fascination with Christianity, and he plays harmonica on this record. While taping those tracks, Dylan remarked that Green's first album, For Him Who Has Ears to Hear, ranked among his favorite records of all time; unfortunately, So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt lacks the lush strings and timeless quality that made that debut so unusual. ~ Darryl Cater, Rovi

No Compromise Play

Say what you like about Keith Green. Say he's an activist. Say he's a crazy, wild-eyed prophet like Ezekiel of long ago. No one can argue that he was not passionate about what he did, especially in the area of making great music using top session musicians. The credits on this record look like a "Who's Who" in jazz -- Hadley Hockensmith on guitar, Abraham Laboriel on bass, Tommy Funderburk on choral arrangements. In everything he did, Keith Green was all about integrity. Songs themselves capture his earnest spirit. Notable on this is his searing "Asleep in the Light," pointing a finger right back at the church for its hypocrisy and lack of compassion. He is not a spectacular technical performer on the piano, but his playing is always full of energy and is enjoyable in its own right for that reason. For example, "Dear John Letter (To the Devil)" is not an especially good song lyrically or musically, but Green's delivery alone makes you laugh out loud. Another high point here is a short little interlude called "My Eyes Are Dry," where Green is practically weeping through his singing. Passionate, sincere, and energetic; this record delivers a refreshing taste of a era now nearly forgotten. ~ Mark W. B. Allender, Rovi

For Him Who Has Ears to Hear Play

Here it is: the album that helped launch a genre. Keith Green's For Him Who Has Ears to Hear helped solidly establish CCM as a movement with some staying power. Musically, the album fits somewhere between Cat Stevens and the Carpenters in the pantheon of '70s pop. Lyrically, Green doesn't pull any punches. He's frank about his love for God and his disdain for evil. There are several gems on this album, including "You Put This Love in My Heart," "He'll Take Care of the Rest," and his cover of Anne Herring's "Easter Song." Although the sound is a bit dated, its status as a classic is unquestionable. ~ Melinda Hill, Rovi

The Live Experience Play

Keith Green's The Live Experience is perhaps one of the most effortless fables about a music legend's unreleased treasure trove. Story has it Melody Green, the late singer's wife, got a call from EMI's Christian music arm inquiring whether she had a few exclusives to share for a future retrospective celebrating her husband's career. Matter of factly, she said yes, but she didn't just have a few exclusives; she had a truckload of stuff -- hundreds of hours' worth of audio and video culled from cassettes, reel tapes, and whatever the singer's estate got a hold of at the time -- that was just waiting to be picked up. Ministry-minded as Melody Green is, she turned it all over to EMI and eventually ended up overseeing what would become The Live Experience, the first-ever collection of concert recordings from the iconic singer/songwriter. There was so much material to be poured over, EMI couldn't quite meet the deadline of compiling and releasing it in time for the 25th anniversary of Green's death, but that didn't matter much: what saw the light of day was simply unheard of -- 16 of Green's biggest hits, collected from a cornucopia of concert performances, festivals, and television appearances spanning Green's entire short-lived trajectory. Thanks to masterization, the sound of The Live Experience is loud and clear, but its message remains as raw and unpopular as anything Green delivered in the prime of his youth: "We need to live like Jesus." This clarion call is made all the more urgent by Green's show itself, an unadorned spectacle consisting of just him and his piano. The almost living-room feel is the real revelation of The Live Experience: for the first time, the world is privy to what really went down at Green's revivalist gigs, for decades a mystery since all that was available were his four lone studio albums. These in-studio, highly polished piano-pop recordings fit the spirit of '70s and '80s CCM well, but Green's Jesus-centric lyricism didn't always jibe well with the music's clear Elton John and Billy Joel affectations. In contrast, The Live Experience shows Green in his element: sitting at the piano, bantering, and preaching the word, often all at once, to anyone with ears to hear, always careful not to let the music become the be all and end all, but merely a conduit for the greater calling that God had placed on his life. ~ Andree Farias, Rovi
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