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Stories From Bob Carlisle's Heart

  • 2000 1 Jan
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Stories From Bob Carlisle's Heart
by Dan MacIntosh for Crosswalk Music

{{Bob Carlisle}} is facing a hard act to follow. Only in his particular case, this imposing figure he follows just happens to be himself. He can thank one song in particular, ==Butterfly Kisses==, for giving him such an intimidating assignment. It may be a deceptively meek sounding song title, but this one recording ended up becoming a monster hit for Carlisle. It was the #1 Adult Contemporary single for seven weeks straight, and the album from which it originated, Butterfly Kisses (==Shades of Grace==) topped the Billboard 200-album chart for two weeks.

Instead of fighting like the Dickens to avoid the Great Expectations such success can place upon an artist, Carlisle has chosen to ignore the hype, and just continue doing what he does best. "The pressure's there, if you want to let it get to you," admits Carlisle. "But I really had a very strong realization that what worked on the last album was that I just-as an artist-let myself be in a place of surrender. I just decided to quit chasing pop music, and (chose to) write stuff about what's important to me; write music about things I'm passionate about."

Carlisle looked deep inside himself to find inspiration for his second Diadem Music release, ==Stories From The Heart==. He turned away from the spotlight's glare, and turned inward toward the areas of life he knows best: his wife, his children, and his God, as the source material for this very personal project. "That's what brought us to the dance before," Carlisle speculates "and whether it does again or not, who knows. But I know that that's the road I need to go down."

Carlisle's road is a straight road. Other crafty songwriters may populate their highways with bright neon road signs and unexpected hidden curves, but Carlisle keeps his path simple and honest, when it comes to mapping out his music. "I don't try to be really trendy with my album titles, or my song titles, or my song content," explains Carlisle. "I'm probably not the deepest human you've ever met," he admits. "That's why I don't try to really get away with metaphor all the time. I really try to just write direct from my soul-with what's on my mind-about what I feel passionate about."

As you might have already guessed, Carlisle ruled out the usage of any puns or plays on words when the time came to name his new album. "When we sat down and started talking about titles for the album," recalls Carlisle "we said, "Well, what is this album? These are just snippets of my life." And so ==Stories From The Heart== just seemed to fit."

These stories read like an autobiography of the Carlisle household; or at least like a season's worth of The Waltons. There's a tender song for his son, called Father's Love, as well as a healthy selection of songs about-and to-his wife, filled with words of devotion, as exemplified by one such love song called All of Me. He claims that his wife never tires of hearing songs about her. But then again, Carlisle has his own unique motive for writing such tunes. "I'm still trying to court her," laughs Carlisle. "I figure with the more songs I write about her, the more she'll like me."

Although Carlisle knows that his value-filled compositions are the ones, which, in his words, brought him to the dance, he's not afraid to try out a few new steps now and again. In fact, the album's opener, We Fall Down, may come as a surprise to many, since it moves to an all-together different beat than much of Carlisle's previously recorded work. It's a song that candidly addresses how Christians can fall away from the faith, and Carlisle creates such an emotionally weighty mood with it, even he admits that this song has a "sort of a gothic feel to it."

This is a story about a man who quizzes a monastery priest on the peace and security of the monastic life, only to find out that-just like with those who dwell outside the monastery's walls-even priests sometimes fall down. "The sentiment of the song is just so powerful to me," explains Carlisle "in finding the grace of God to be absolutely and specifically enough for our lives. We want for nothing more." Carlisle is attracted to "the perspective that this man has, having met this monk on the outside of the monastery, always envying his life, (and then) thinking that it must be better in there than out here in the real world. And (just how) the priest set him straight on that."

Personal songs wouldn't mean much, though, if others couldn't find something to relate to in them. And these songs, sung straight from Carlisle's heart, have touched the hearts of listeners in a special way many contemporary artists have failed to duplicate.

Carlisle has called his approach grown-up music for grown ups, because these lyrical sentiments fill a gap too long ignored by the music business at large. "What I meant by that," explains Carlisle "is the fact that-from a marketing standpoint in the record industry-it's a young person's game, and that's fine." Fine, of course, if the world only contained young people. Naturally, though, demographic reality begs to differ. "There's a good segment of our population that just aren't getting tapped into. They have car keys, and they know exactly how to get to the record store, but they just don't go, because nothing's appealing to them."

Carlisle believes that while the music industry covers the extremes well, it misses a great big mid-section in between: Middle-aged listeners are either jerked around like a belly full of Jolt cola, or put to sleep as with a warm glass of milk. "There's really young, wild-based stuff, or-especially with within the gospel industry-they're stuck with inspirational music, which can be kind of boring." "I think we've touched on a nerve with Butterfly Kisses, because it touched on a segment of society that just hadn't had that nerve touched in a long time."

This is not to say that Carlisle has completely abandoned rock & roll. "I'll always love rock music-to produce it, and to do it," he says. Although ==Songs From The Heart== is by no means a rock & roll album, it is still a record that can shake the dust off your speakers. For example, the song "Power Of Love" features the Big Motor Horns, and is a thing he describes as a "Tower-of-Power-meets-Robert-Palmer kind of thing. Elsewhere, Carlisle calls upon gospel singer {{Fred Hammond} and his {{Radical For Christ}} choir to close the album with a house-shaking Black Gospel workout. Carlisle may be best known by the music world at large for his gracefully light touch with a ballad, but-as the aforementioned songs so ably demonstrate-he knows his way around rock & roll, as well as old-fashioned gospel.

Carlisle is also no stranger to country music. Being a songwriter in Nashville has allowed Carlisle to rub shoulders with many of country music's elite. In fact, ==Butterfly Kisses== was nominated for the Country Music Association (CMA) Song of the Year, and Carlisle was nominated for best New Country Artist at the American Music Awards.

For this new album, Carlisle has enlisted one of country music's best singers, Kathy Mattea, to sing a duet on Somewhere. "She's wonderful," notes Carlisle. "She's a good friend, and she's a great singer. It was a pleasure having her on this project." Carlisle was thrilled to have Mattea participate on such a meaningful song. "This song is really about middle-aged folks who have yet to find really true love in their lives. There are so many people who are starving to find someone, and that's kind of what this song represents." Carlisle had intended from the start for this song to be a duet, and although Mattea was on a short list of possible duet partners, it was her enthusiasm that ultimately earned her this partnership. "She was the one who really stepped up to the plate and said 'I'd really love to do this.' So that, to me, cinched it. Half of the joy of having someone sing on your project is having someone who is enthused about doing it."

The masses may only associate {{Bob Carlisle}} with his breakthrough hit, but many in the Christian community were first introduced to Carlisle singing when he fronted the group Allies. With it, he led a full-blown rock & roll army-often times in authentic outfits purchased straight from army surplus store.

And though he may have slowed down his march a few steps-musically speaking-Carlisle retains many great memories from his 80s days with Allies. "That was a wonderful experience," remembers Carlisle. "That was nine years of my life." During those nine years, though, Allies recorded six albums together. "More than anything else, {{Allies}} was just a wonderful band musically; each player in that band was just a talented musician. So every night was something different, because we really did play well together, and it was a joy to be a part of that." "I really have few regrets about what we did with {{Allies}}. We just kind of put it to bed after a while, because nine years was enough."

The band may now be history, but Carlisle is still very close to that group's guitarist, {{Randy Thomas}} (co-founder of {{Identical Strangers}},) because he remains as one of Carlisle's primary songwriting partners to this day. Along with Thomas, Carlisle wrote "Why'd You Come In Here Lookin' Like That", which became a hit for Dolly Parton, along with his own breakthrough hit, "Butterfly Kisses". In fact, these two even wrote the song "Father's Love" for this new album.

With all of his many musical skills make {{Bob Carlisle}} is truly a self-contained artist: he's an exceptional singer, in addition to being an in demand songwriter. But with ==Stories From The Heart==, Carlisle is not only the performer and primary songwriter; he's also the album's producer. That, my friends, is a lot of work. Nevertheless, he never tires of wearing many musical hats, and it's often hard for him to choose which of these he enjoys wearing the most. "I enjoy them all for what they are," says Carlisle. "They're different worlds, you know. Each has it's wonderful benefit, and downfall." "As producer, obviously it's great to have artistic control over your own work. And yes, you get respect for that. But it comes with very long hours, and a lot of responsibility. You're basically shouldering the entire budget for the album."

There's more to being a great producer than just a great ear for music, though: a great producer must also be practiced in the art of delegation. "I'm not the smartest producer in the world," confesses Carlisle "but I'm smart enough to surround myself with people who are really smart. You just enlist a lot of great help." As a producer, Carlisle sees himself as his sole production subject.

Although he continues to write songs for other artists, he chooses to dedicate the lion's share of his singing-which brought him into sessions by such luminaries as Barry Manilow, REO Speedwagon and Juice Newton-to his solo projects. Likewise, this same rule applies to his production duties. "I've been asked to (produce other artists). There have been several projects that have come across my desk. I tend to not really want to get into the world of 'hired gun' as producer, because there are (other) people who are really good at that."

When it comes to involving himself in outside projects, though, time just isn't on his side. "I may take on a song here or there," continues Carlisle "but as far as producing someone's album, I don't know if I've got time to. It really does eat up a lot of time and energy, and I've kind of got my plate full with my own career now."

These days, Carlisle is forced to constantly work with a fully loaded plate. "It's been quite a bit busier than it ever was before," says Carlisle "and it's kind of been wearing me out. But it's been wonderful." This new album is likely to make {{Bob Carlisle}} one of the busiest men in the world-all over again.

Such a fast pace has prompted Carlisle to call Butterfly Kisses "the mother of all ironies." "If promotion for ==Stories From The Heart== is even half as hectic as it was last year, I'll never see my family; Butterfly Kisses [written especially for his daughter] was the one thing that kept me away from my daughter." Or to put it bluntly: All of the work that goes into creating his music makes it harder and harder for Bob Carlisle to also practice what he preaches. Nevertheless, no matter the future holds, Carlisle will always be a man who shares his home made stories with the world, straight from the heart.