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Sounds like … an eclectic mix of sounds and styles that have
been characteristic of the alternative folk pop band for the last
decade.At a Glance … despite a shift in songwriting style, there's
enough here to continue recommending Caedmon's Call as one of
Christian music's smartest and most appealing bands.
Ten years already? Have we known Caedmon's Call for that long? Actually, most people, including me, have only known the band since the release of their label debut in 1997, but we can't deny the strong impact this alternative folk pop band has left on the Christian music industry with every release since then. With a sound that has changed ever so slightly with every album, what
can be expected of Back Home, their fifth label release? The title has a double meaning, referring not just to the Christian desire to recommit our lives to the Lord, but also to a reflection of the band's desire to create a folk pop album reminiscent of their earlier recordings.
Back Home certainly recaptures the spirit of a group of talented musicians joyfully performing together, but the album is more accurately an amalgamation of the sonic variations found on all of Caedmon's Call's previous releases. Depending on which track you listen to, it has the simpler acoustic rock sound of their earlier albums, the polished pop folk found on 40 Acres, the eclectic experimentation of Long Line of Leavers, and even the worshipful sounds of In the Company of Angels. Each of the three lead singers (guitarists Derek Webb and Cliff Young, along with Cliff's wife Danielle) offers some of personal best vocal work, and the rhythm section of the band (Garett Buell, Todd Bragg, and Jeff Miller) continues to distinguish itself.
But Back Home raises some interesting questions about the band's identity. If the songwriters change, does the artist change? Said differently, do the band members or the songs ultimately define the sound of Caedmon's Call? And in this case, does it matter since the band members generally never wrote their own songs in the first place? Only one track on Back Home represents the familiar songwriting regime of the older albums — "Beautiful Mystery" by Aaron Tate, Derek, and Cliff is a pleasant folk pop track that ponders the mysteries of God. In the case of Derek, the band's most consistent songwriter in the past, he undoubtedly concentrated his prolific efforts on his first solo album (due this March), and sings on just a few of the album's tracks. Now more than ever, Caedmon's Call represents a "guild" of gifted songwriters and musicians who write for the band but aren't necessarily in it.
The album's greatest revelation is the Caedmon's keyboardist / multi-instrumentalist Josh Moore. This guy's just barely out of his teens, but he plays more instruments than anyone in the band, wrote four of the songs, and produced some of Back Home apart from the band. His song explanations in the press materials are so intellectually worded they'd make your head spin! Josh's worshipful "You Created," inspired by David's relationship with the Lord, sounds very much like "God of Wonders," and just as intelligently conceived. Speaking of which, the writers of "God of Wonders" (Steve Hindalong and Marc Byrd) join Josh in writing "Never Gonna Let Go," a very catchy folk pop song of Jesus'
Even more impressive is "The Emptiest Day," a song wonderfully sung by Derek that desperately searches for God to fill the emptiness caused by the monotony of everyday life — "The thoughts I find impossible to mention are written on a star / They say
that I can find You in a flower, but I need You in the car." Then
there's "The Kingdom," an absolutely mesmerizing track because of
its poetic lyrics and unique sound, which melds the band's folk pop
with an exotic orchestral Middle Eastern influence. The title is
a metaphor for selfishness and vanity, the idol we make of our
own lives — "I'm watching my kingdom crumble and fall / You're building Your kingdom over all / I'm cursing my wisdom, while the angels I call / To take me away from here." In just three albums, Josh has become an integral and career-defining member of the band. Cliff certainly remains the heart of Caedmon's Call, so if Derek is the soul and Danielle the voice (one of them, anyway), then Josh now represents the mind.