Sounds like … bluesy alt-country similar to Johnny Cash, Bruce Cockburn, Glenn Kaiser, Lost Dogs, Buddy Miller, and Derek Webb.At a glance … probably too repetitive in sound and lyric for some, Blue Chapel will still appeal to the spiritually minded alt-country and blues audience.
Those not familiar with Kenny Meeks probably know of some of his work. The talented Detroit artist was influenced by the blues at an early age, citing Bob Dylan, Robert Johnson, Buddy Guy, Van Morrison, Ray Charles, and The Rolling Stones as chief influences. He started his own musical career playing with Christian folk artist Jan Krist in the Detroit area. In the mid-'80s, he moved to Nashville and began playing with Kim Hill, Michael Card, and Buddy and Julie Miller. A talented session player, he was a part of the short-lived blues-rock trio The Little Kings with Phil Madeira and Dave Perkins, two more talented musicians in the underground Nashville scene. He's even played guitar on tour for a year with Sixpence None the Richer. Most recently, Meeks is known for producing Derek Webb's She Must and Shall Go Free (prominent on two hidden tracks) and performing on Jars of Clay's Who We Are Instead.
Blue Chapel is Meeks' second solo album of alt-country-traditional country and blues with a decidedly raw approach. It's similar in spirit to Eric Clapton's hardcore blues albums and resembles the work of Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Bruce Cockburn, Glenn Kaiser, and Lost Dogs. "We're Gonna Rise" is a bluesy spiritual about the promise of eternal life through Christ's resurrection, and the folksy country of "Lifted Up" offers similar testimony of being sanctified by the Lamb. There's a basic arrangement of the traditional spiritual "I Wanna Be Ready" and a simple rendering of "The Lord's Prayer" that recalls Dylan and Clapton with its sparse guitar and harmonica accompaniment. "The Father's Love," a bluesy spiritual in the tradition of "John the Revelator," is about God's gift of Jesus Christ.
Part of me wishes that there were a little more insight and complexity to Blue Chapel. The songs are simple blues, many of them simply recalling Christ's actions and teachings through repetitious blues phrases. "Jesus Said to Peter" gives examples of Christ's relationship to the disciple, and "All to the Glory of God" recounts many of Jesus' miracles. "Seven Times Seventy" is clearly derived from Matthew 18:22, referring to Christ's answer for how often to forgive one another.
"Lonely Road," one of the album's more insightfully worded tracks, points to Jesus as the one sure path: "Many a friend will make you wander/And many a stranger will lead you home/He'll lead you down the straight and narrow/That brings you back to where you belong." The album's highlight is likely "Shining as Stars," a beautiful country folk song about letting our light shine with love and unity, written with Buddy Greene and similar in sound to Lost Dogs: "May we be done with selfish ambition/Finding humility in our love/Regarding our brother better than ourselves/Seeing to all we must see to/But not only for our own/As we look to care for others as well."
Blue Chapel is not revolutionary, but still a solid album. Like Johnny Cash and O Brother, Where Art Thou, it makes country and blues sound cool for those who consider it perhaps a little too twangy or pop. Still, the album would have benefited from some variation and introspection on Meeks' part. It's recommended, but only if you're a fan of the genre.