- reviewed by Russ Breimeier Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2007 12 Dec
- The Old Rugged Cross
- The Cross
- Run On for a Long Time
- Trouble of the World
- I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole
- Up Above My Head I Hear Music in the Air
- They Won't Go When I Go
- The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power
- People Get Ready
- One Way-One Blood
Whether expressing himself personally, spiritually, or musically, Kevin Max has long been something of an enigma in Christian music. Though he's brought freshness and creativity to the scene, he's never comfortably settled into a solo career with an identifiable sound for more than one album. Some would cite that as proof that Max can't be bound by conventions, but others would counter that he's yet to figure himself out as an artist. Revisiting his previous solo projects (beginning with 2001's Stereotype Be), there's evidence for both sides—a singer/songwriter who strives for innovation, but often compromises it by relying too heavily on his varied influences.
That's exactly what happens again on
There's no question that Max has gathered an amazingly diverse list of talent for this project—starting with producer Will Owsley (Amy Grant's guitarist and a talented solo artist in his own right). Along with a number of prominent session musicians (including B3 master Phil Madeira and multi-instrumentalist John Painter), there are enough guest artists here to credit the album as "Kevin Max and Friends."
Unfortunately, the adaptations are more routine than stylized. The album begins with a throwaway cover of "The Old Rugged Cross," with Max doing his best Johnny Cash impersonation to tinny EQ and record scratches, reproducing old-time production values. Other than shortening the hymn to a one-verse prologue, he's done nothing with the song that's different from classic recordings … and that's pretty much the case throughout.
Much is being made of this album's rendition of Prince's "The Cross" because it reunites dc Talk. Of course, the three members have already reconvened for a 2004 remix of tobyMac's "Atmosphere" and their 2002 song "Let's Roll" (a tribute to Todd Beamer). Once you get past the novelty of the reunion, the cover's not all that interesting—Michael Tait is featured for a verse, tobyMac yowls in the background, and it ultimately become repetitive. The Blind Boys of Alabama did a similar but superior (and less repetitive) adaptation of the song for their 2002 album Higher Ground. Max seems to be a Blind Boys fan, since he also covers the group's cover of "Run On for a Long Time" (from 2001's Spirit of the Century) with
Thing is, those Blind Boys in their 70's sounded creative and innovative in their gospel-rock blend, uniquely bridging old with new. Max, however, seems content to deliver the songs as they've been performed before, whether by the Blind Boys or other artists. Hey, there's a rockabilly cover of "Up Above My Head" with Grant and Vince Gill—just like Elvis did it years ago! And how about that haunting rendition of Stevie Wonder's "They Won't Go When I Go"—you know, the one that echoes George Michael's version from 1990?
Sometimes the covers are so faithful, they're just plain dull. The arrangement of Mahalia Jackson's "Trouble of the World" is indeed soulful, but also plodding. And embracing pure gospel-blues, Max sounds out of his element with a repetitive and meandering rendition of Blind Willie Johnson's "I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole," accompanied only by bluesy acoustic guitar and handclaps. And again, what's so innovative about performing a song as it was originally performed?
It's not so much that