Sounds like … every other Glenn Kaiser Band album, combining classic rock and blues and evoking the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, ZZ Top, and Robert Cray.
At a Glance … though this is essentially "more of the same" from Glenn Kaiser and company, the quality with which Blacktop is written and performed is undeniable.
Most recognize Glenn Kaiser's name as the primary artistic force behind the classic Resurrection Band, and as the pastor and founder of Jesus People USA and the popular Cornerstone festivals. Joined by bassist Roy Montroy (the other primary songwriter from the Rez Band) and drummer Ed Bialach, the Glenn Kaiser Band is an impressive power trio that blends Glenn and Roy's love of the blues and classic rock.
Produced by Tom Cameron, Blacktop is a stylistic combination of two past Glenn Kaiser Band albums, namely Winter Sun (their first) and Carolina Moon (their second). Roy wrote most of the music and Glenn most of the lyrics, though they contribute in both regards throughout the album. Like previous albums, Blacktop was primarily recorded live in the studio. As simple as that sounds, it just isn't done as often as you would think these days thanks to modern technology. The disc also features some guest spots by Chris "Hambone" Cameron on B3 organ, as well as guitar greats Rick Derringer and Dave Beegle.
In short, Blacktop sounds a lot like previous Glenn Kaiser Band projects, recalling the blues of Stevie Ray Vaughn or Robert Cray, mixed with the classic rock of Bad Company, ZZ Top, and Jimi Hendrix. Beginning the album quietly and then exploding into heavy blues-rock, the title track is about humility and servitude in marriage and other relationships, as ordained by God's Word. Those who are skeptical about the blues being used effectively in Christian music should listen to "Useless Man," which is particularly prayerful and worshipful: "Well help me through the darkness/Help me see through the night/Help me through the tunnel/And help me see the light." A similar and self-explanatory confessional plea is heard in "Save Me from Myself," and the ecclesiastical "Got Everything" is perfectly suited for the genre by conveying the emptiness of materialism.
Some of the songs on Blacktop take on social issues or serve to call the listener to a stronger spiritual walk with the Lord. "Full Time Love" uses a classic 12-bar blues riff to dwell on the emotional abuse that some women suffer. "Bottle Down" condemns alcoholism ("Only friend is a hundred proof liar") through a blues-rock sound reminiscent of classic ZZ Top. Then with a heavier rock sound that more resembles Bad Company, Glenn and company take on those with indifferent beliefs toward God and the afterlife in "Got No Opinion."
Glenn gets autobiographical with "Voice in the Wind" and "Used to Be." The former is reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix or Bob Seger, with Glenn testifying, "Far too many evenin's, when I was alone/I told myself a story, what I thought I'd known/It was little consolation when the truth was shown/Everybody's got a mirror right before their nose." In "Used to Be," Glenn shares his broken past, scarred by the divorce of his parents and the self- destructive rock 'n' roll lifestyle he once lived, only to be saved by the grace of God: "There's a new man singin'/God is sanctifyin' me/There's a new man breathin'/He done broke the chains on me."
The album's most insightful track, "Price of Peace," notes that losing control can cause pain when we surrender to anger, and healing when we surrender to others around us: "Open up, face the truth/We're all sinners, there ain't no excuse/Sow His mercy, an' the pain will cease/Give it up, that's the price of peace." Finally, there's "Facin' the Music," which reminds us that God wants to be our ever present friend, but he will either treat us with judgment or love depending on our relationship with him (or lack thereof).
Those familiar with Glenn Kaiser and his new band already know these three are masters of their instruments and quite versatile in their blues-rock stylings. This is a group that ignores all the trends and fads of the music industry and simply does what they do best. It shows in the sound, with top-notch musicianship and a quality production that will satisfy fans of classic rock and the blues. That said, Blacktop grows somewhat tiresome before the end of its twelve songs, mostly because it all begins to sound the same after a while. It's not as strong as Carolina Moon or as eclectic and interesting as 2002's Ripley County Blues, and I'd recommend either of those albums before this one.
On the other hand, Glenn Kaiser Band is one of the best at meshing lyrics and music, matching words with style, yet never sounding clichéd in the process. You would expect a Christian blues band to be as lyrically simplistic as a typical worship band, but Glenn and Roy manage to approach their craft with intelligence and passion. Considering that Glenn and Roy have been writing for nearly 30 thirty years, I'm not sure whether to attribute their consistent talent to experience or to be impressed that they've kept their songwriting this fresh for this long. So while the Glenn Kaiser Band doesn't really tread any new ground with Blacktop, you'll find no complaints here. The quality with which they write and perform their music is undeniable.