|Musical Style: Rock||Produced By: DeGarmo & Key and John Hampton|
|Record Label: ForeFront||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 1987||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 90%|
|Running Time: 41:32|
There’s always a joy in classic Christian rock, and DeGarmo & Key prove no exception. Ranking alongside Petra, White Heart and Resurrection Band as one of the pioneering groups of the genre, DeGarmo & Key consists of the duo of Eddie DeGarmo (keyboards) and Dana Key (lead vocals and guitars). The two got their start in a mainstream pop group named Globe, but after becoming Christians in the mid-seventies, they formed what was first was The DeGarmo & Key Band but later shorted to just DeGarmo & Key.
The first two DeGarmo & Key albums, This Time Thru (1978) and Straight On (1979), headed in a blues heavy rock direction but with the occasional progressive overtone. Straight On, it must be noted, was ranked number 11 in a recent blog discussing the 50 greatest Christian albums of all time. The author described Straight On as a “a timeless work with stellar songs and killer musicianship” and “a masterpiece worthy of being called one of the greatest albums in Christian music history”. I could not agree more.
But by the time the eighties rolled around, however, DeGarmo & Key started to experiment with pop rock on This Ain’t Hollywood (1980) before moving on to the keyboard driven pop sounds of Mission Of Mercy (1983), Communication (1984)( and Commander Sozo And The Charge Of The Light Brigade (1985). It was during this ere of the group’s history that DeGarmo & Key started to lose me, but I was pleasantly surprised when they took a turn towards a heavier rock direction on the 1987 release D & K. As the eighties transitioned to the nineties, DeGarmo & Key would have their moments on albums such as The Pledge (1989), Heat It Up (1993) and To Extremes (1994) but none would match the consistency and continuity of what I felt where their two finest releases: Straight On and D & K.
With the recent passing of Dana Key (due to a ruptured blood clot at age 56), I wanted to write a review in tribute to DeGarmo & Key. But what album? My first thought was Straight On (my favorite from the group) but the write up in the previously referenced top 50 Christian album blog pretty much covered all the bases and shared my sentiments exactly. So I felt I had nothing further to add in the area. As a result, I decided to go with D & K, an excellent album of near worthy merit in comparison to Straight On that by no means is relegated to “second choice status”.
Now, DeGarmo & Key might not quite reflect some of the gritty blues driven sensibilities of its first two albums on D & K but certainly rocks hard – at times crossing the threshold of hard rock – in creating a work characterized by catchy choruses and notable melodies (the songwriting here is fantastic), polished (but not too polished) production and the strong musicianship that Eddie and Dana bring to the table.
If you are looking for DeGarmo & Key to “rock out” then give “Out Of The Danger Zone” (a real barn burner), “War With The World” (by far the albums heaviest) and “Radical” (catchy disposition) several listens. Some of the previously referenced progressiveness can be found in “Rock Solid” (heavier rock direction) and “Strength Of Love” (more melodic feel), two of the finest songs in the groups three decade repertoire- at least the best since “Livin’ On The Edge of Dyin’” (from Straight On). Of course, you will also find a couple of ballads, “Teenage Suicide” and “Stand”, but both are tastefully done in standing out with memorable choruses and fitting touches of guitar, along with two pieces taking a tempered heavy rock approach, “Under The Son” and “Brother Against Brother”.
Dana Key proves the driving force behind the band with his soulful and blues driven vocal presence. One of the overlooked and underrated vocalists in the Christian rock genre, he at times has been compared to Mylon LeFevre but in this reviewers opinion brings his own unique and complementary style blending equal parts grit and heart. From a guitar standpoint, he decorates the album with his bluesy soloing, shining on “Rock Solid” (this one finds him really cutting loose) and “Stand” (more poignant feel to his abilities). RIP Dana!
Yes, Eddie DeGarmo’s keyboards play a role but it is a tasteful and complementary one. In other words, there is none of the overriding keyboard work that characterized many of DeGarmo & Key’s other eighties releases. Keyboards on “Brother Against Brother”, for example, play a highlighting role while “Strength Of Love” and “War With The World” feature some cool Hammond B.
On a side note: I wrote the review off a used CD copy I picked up while living in Portland, Oregon several years ago. One cold and rainy day – what else would you expect from the weather in Portland? – I wandered into a thrift shop only to discover that someone had unloaded their entire CCM collection- and obviously had no idea what those old CD’s were worth in the process! In addition to D & K, I also found DeGarmo & Key’s classic 1982 live album No Turning Back: Live, several older Sweet Comfort Band CD’s (original Light issues) and hard to find albums from X-Sinner (“Peace Treaty”) and Mastedon (“Lofcaudio”). All in mint condition!
As for No Turning Back: Live, in my opinion it is the best live Christian rock album ever produced. Success goes to the bands label at the time, Lamb & Lion, for making the right creative decisions: Instead of “boiling” things down to one vinyl record they instead made it a full length live album by releasing it as a two record set. The CD was re-issued in the same manner- on two CD’s and with no songs cut from the track listing. The band, of course, deserves a measure of credit as well. Rather than perform their material live in the same fashion as in the studio, they do not hesitate to cut loose and extend the length of a song by making excursions into “jam band” instrumental territory. “Let Him Help You Today”, a four minute piece off Straight On, turns into a nine minute jam session.
“Out Of The Danger Zone” proves a three minute scorcher. The song maneuvers its distance with the rhythm guitar pummeling in and out of the mix while adding heavy (but consummate) doses of organ and bluesy guitars in just the right amounts. Tireless and full of momentum, this one is a fitting album opener. “Out Of The Danger Zone” warns against the danger of compromise:
I used to stay out late
I had a party disease,
I could've wrecked my car
I couldn't find the keys,
I heard the voice of God
Tell me to leave it alone,
You got a train to catch
Out of the danger zone
The pace tapers somewhat with “Under The Son”, a catchy melodic rocker that might not hit quite as hard as its predecessor but holds up nonetheless with its elegant chorus and classy milieu. What we wind up with is quite the stylish showstopper. The Lordship of Christ is the subject at hand:
I was living like a loaded gun
Angry all the time
Under pressure I nearly came undone
I wasn’t worth a dime
I heart a voice; I reached out my hand
I found a King; I’m under His command
Under, Under the Son…
“Rock Solid” is an impact laden piece stretched to a full six and a half minutes. The song starts to a lengthy introduction that combines a pronounced bass line with a jamming guitar solo. As it moves forward, “Rock Solid” just plain kicks with its strapping verses and nothing less than an authoritative chorus (dealing with the foundation upon which we should be resting):
I’m rock solid I know where I stand
Rock solid in the Masters hand
Rock solid grounded in love
A lengthy instrumental excursion with some bluesy lead guitar rounds things out. Powerful and just plain brilliant are the first words to come to mind.
Somewhat of an abrupt transition is made to the ballad “Teenage Suicide”. But it is a good transition in that the song maintains the high quality with its piano driven proclivity and moments that range from the pompous to the moving. A distinct melody is conveyed in the process while Dana Key is again on top of things with his moving guitar work. What we have here is an anti suicide song:
I don't think I can take it
I give you my heart to break it
Listed as a teenage suicide
It could've been me
Out there in the moonlight screaming
It could've been me
In a search for everlasting meaning
But I found all the pieces
Deep within the arms of Jesus
“Strength Of Love”, the albums second six minute masterpiece, rates with “Rock Solid” in terms of quality. The song opens to an interesting introduction that ranges from distorted guitars to vocal effects bouncing between the left and right channel. Now, “Strength Of Love” might not exude the raw power of “Rock Solid” but its remaining moments prove no less worthy with its wonderfully executed chorus and several creative instrumental excursions: The first features more of the Eddies’ trademark organ and second finds the previously referenced vocal effects returning. Play this one loud for full effect.
“Brother Against Brother (It’s Not Right)” can best be described as a gritty mid-paced rocker. What we have here is one of the albums more tempered pieces, highlighting an underpinning of edgy guitar but with traces of keyboards in the backdrop. Initiative briefly picks up for a chorus carried in the more decisive fashion. Very nice finesse based track. “Brother Against Brother” warns against judgmental attitudes:
Will you listen to my plea
And we can lose our prejudice
There’s no time to disgrace
There’s a world that’s losin’ hope
While we fight among ourselves
While we flirt with destiny
It takes a little bit of understanding
I’m not just like you
Cause a brother don’t judge a brother
Can’t we agree that’s true
“War With The World” hits hard and fast. With a guitar sound crossing the line of hard rock, it does not get much heavier as far as DeGarmo & Key are concerned. But what I enjoy most about the song is how it mixes in some Hammond B to create an almost seventies influenced effect; I am almost reminded of Modest Attraction or even Deep Purple in the process. A very solid hook is conveyed as well. Spiritual warfare is the subject at hand:
The enemy’s a liar
He wants to take your heart
The lure is the desire
That tears a heart apart
So don’t go for the glitter
Yeah, we’re at war with the world
Yeah war with the world
We’ve gotta fight till the real King comes
Don’t go for the dragon’s pearls.
The albums second ballad, “Stand”, showcases a notable melody. This one is a bit heavier than “Teenage Suicide” in moving at the firmer tempo while establishing an environs bordering on the heartfelt. I bet this one received its share of radio play back in the day. “Stand” focuses on the truths that we are to stand for:
There’s a fire that burns in a young man’s heart
There’s a raging storm in his soul
He’s tired of hearing the unborn cry
But what can he do so alone?
He can raise the voice of injustice
He can join in the victor’s band
Stand, stand up and be counted…
“Radical” returns things to an up-tempo heading. While not quite as driving as the albums other rockers, “Out Of The Danger Zone” and “War With The World”, this one flexes its muscles nonetheless with its bass guitar driven opening and intermittent hints of guitar. The chorus is fantastic (powerful and catchy) while we are treated to more Hammond B. The emphasis here is on what makes Christ radically different from any man who has ever lived:
He’s got love for motivation
When He died for me and you
Please don’t soon forget
The essence of His style
Is daring and outrageous
A little left of wild
It don’t matter too much
You might think He’s strange
He’s a supernatural hero
This world He’s out to change
The album closes to “When The Son Begins To Reign”, a slower keyboard driven piece. While bringing a bit too much of a CCM-ish feel for my taste, the song is well crafted in highlighting a very fine melody you will be singing along to in no time.
At this point I am sure you are asking: How do I obtain a copy of this? And therein the problem lies. D & K, long out of print, is a hard to find and pricey collectable. Perhaps you will get lucky like me and uncover a used copy; otherwise, expect to potentially pay up to $50 (or more) on eBay. The solution to the dilemma, of course, would be to get D & K re-issued. Let’s hope this happens sooner than later.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Out Of The Danger Zone” (2:51), “Under The Son” (3:50), “Rock Solid” (6:26), “Teenage Suicide” (3:55), “Strength Of Love” (6:07), “Brother Against Brother (It’s Not Right)” (5:07), “War With The World” (3:12), “Stand” (3:44), “Radical” (3:31), “When The Son Begins To Reign” (2:46)
Dana Key – Lead Vocals & Guitars
Eddie DeGarmo – Keyboards & Lead Vocals
Tommy Cathey – Bass
Greg Morrow – Drums & Percussion
Steve Taylor - Guitars