To society in general, the term Christian music has a bad reputation. It’s cheesy, derivative, and devoid of the creativity you’ll find from secular artists.
And if we are speaking solely in generalities, you’d be right.
The first Christian rock band people think of, especially if you grew up in the eighties, would be Stryper. The yellow and black leather clad melodic heavy metal guys, who were brazen enough to release albums with titles like To Hell with the Devil and Soldiers Under Command. For years, if I mentioned to anyone that I listened to Christian music, the typical response would be, “You mean like Stryper?”
But if you took a deep dive into Christian music in the eighties and nineties, you’d find a catalog as wide as it is diverse. Sure, there was cheesy stuff like Carman1, there was derivative pop music like Michael W. Smith, and there was carbon copy heavy metal, like White Cross, Barren Cross, and Neon Cross2. But for every few derivative acts, there were others that were really trying to wrestle with serious questions about their faith, their place in the world3, and how best their art can reflect their Creator.
One such example is Daniel Amos.
Formed in the early 1970s, Daniel Amos’ music spans decades and multiple genres. In the early years, they were standard 1970’s country alt-rock, similar to fellow Californians, the Eagles. As time went on, they morphed into new wave, similar to Talking Heads, with a little bit of Elvis Costello thrown in for good measure.
This shift was the driving force behind The Alarma Chronicles, a four album magnum opus based on a short story written by Taylor. With The Alarma Chronicles, Daniel Amos (or, DA) established themselves as serious artists who existed solely to reflect Christ as authentically and as beautifully as they could.
None of this seemed to result in success, either in the mainstream (They were too Christian), or in the world of CCM (They were too weird), but they still plugged along. With every album, they dove deeper, and their lyrics reflected that.
Many people consider their 1987 album, Darn Floor, Big Bite4 to be the pinnacle of their creative achievements, and it’s hard to argue that. However, considering that album came out in the center of their long career, I would rather not consider that all that came after as a slow descent down hill.
I discovered Daniel Amos strictly by accident. I was with my high school youth group, and we were attending a rap concert by Christian hip hop pioneer Michael Peace5. At the end of the concert, when the altar call was done, he invited anyone who was left to come on up to the stage and grab some free music.
None of the music was his, but there was a pile of cassette tapes on the stage, and my friends and I were quick to snatch up whatever caught our eye. One of my friends grabbed a 77s album, another picked up Dig, by Adam Again, and another friend picked up Scenic Routes by the Lost Dogs.
Me? I grabbed Kalhoun by DA.
As someone who was steeped in Christian heavy metal at the time, Kalhoun was a step out of my comfort zone. It was rock and roll, but it was nothing like what I usually had in my tape player.
But I loved it.
Needless to say, as the years went on, I tried to follow Daniel Amos as much as I could. Their albums were not readily available to me, so my only exposure to them was limited to Kalhoun for a lot of years. Eventually, thanks to the internet, I was able to track down a number of their records and purchase them as an adult.
And that’s how I landed on 2001’s Mr. Buechner’s Dream. This was the first album I had heard of before it was released, and I eagerly anticipated my copy arriving in the mail, purchased from their own webstore. I was not disappointed
Mr. Buechner’s Dream is really two albums, packaged together as a double album. I’m not sure of the reasoning behind this, but both albums complement each other well. The first of the two collections, “Mr. Buechner’s Dream”, is a musical tribute to Frederich Buechner, who I had never heard of before then, but have since become a big fan.6
The album itself is dreamy, full of reflections on the wonder of artistic expression for the Christian (“Ribbons and Bows”), finding joy in the mundane (“Ordinary Extraordinary Day”), and the joy and fear of parenting daughters (“Rice Paper Wings”). The real star of the record is the closer, though. With “Joel”, DA delivers a powerful worship song straight from the Old Testament, the promise of hope in this broken world, courtesy of God pouring His Spirit on all flesh.
With the second disk, you’re treated to what makes Daniel Amos seem so timeless. In the nineties, DA seemed to settle into an Americana groove, and it’s no more evident than the second disk of Mr. Buechner’s Dream, subtitled: And So it Goes.
I’m not sure if Terry Scott Taylor intended on this being the figurative DA swan song, but it seems like he wasn’t sure that they would do another one.7 On this disc he lays it all on the table, including “Flash in Your Eyes”, a heartbreaking tribute to the late Gene Eugene. It’s with And So it Goes… that DA reaches a creative pinnacle that most bands dream of.
It’s rare to find a band that’s as philosophically and musically rich as DA. The unfortunate side effect of being shoehorned into the Christian music scene, and shoehorned even further into the Christian alt-rock music scene, is that not many people know who they are. But the fun thing about it is, it feels like you are part of a secret club when you mention them to someone who is also a fan. I’ve had many occassions where I have mentioned DA in an offhand comment, and the person I’m talking to lights up with recognition.
And that’s the secret to their longevity, I think. They didn’t so much change with the times, they grew with them. In the 70s, it was country rock, in the 80s, it was new wave, but when the 90s hit, it’s almost like they foresaw the future of music, and settled into a hybrid style Americana that was all their own. With musical genres getting more and more segregated based on style, it makes sense that they would develop their niche and hope we’d follow along.
I doubt we will see another new Daniel Amos record. Longtime bassist Tim Chandler passed away suddenly in 2018, at the young age of 588. Terry S. Taylor is still making music, over at his Patreon9. He’s also become a prolific composer of soundtracks for video games, partnering with Doug TenNapel on a number of projects. The probable lack of new DA music stings, but at least Taylor is out there creating, doing his best to reflect His Creator.
And I’ll follow along. Because when you have something good, you never want to let it go.
My wife absolutely loved Carman back in the day. And if you need proof that opposites truly attract, at the same time she was buying up every Carman tape she could find, I had fashioned homemade membership cards for the “Carman Hate Club”, for my friend Mike and I.
I think there was a contractual obligation for some of these metal bands to include the word “cross” in their name.
Maybe Michael W. Smith wasn’t so derivative…
A title derived from an interview with Koko the Gorilla, who communicated using sign language. They showed Koko a video of an earthquake, and using her limited language skills, she described it as “Darn floor, bad bite”.
I’m not sure how big of a reach Michael Peace had; he was somewhat local to where I grew up, and was very popular around Northern and Western NY. I’ve had the privilege of meeting him in recent years, and while he’s out of the rap game, he’s a sincere believer, doing incredible work in the greater Rochester, NY area, mentoring youth as well as doing outreach throughout the inner city. He’s a good man, doing good work.
Buechner is an author and theologian, whose common sense approaches to theology and faith was refreshing in a world full of charlatan faith healers and prosperity preachers. If you are looking for a gateway to Buechner, check out his timeless classic Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale.
They did - 2013’s sublime Dig Here Said the Angel.
You can read a wonderful tribute to Tim and his work at this link: http://musictap.com/2018/10/10/in-memoriam-bassist-tim-chandler-1960-2018/
You can become a patron for as low as $1 per month! https://www.patreon.com/terryscotttaylor