|Musical Style: Blues Heavy Rock||Produced By:|
|Record Label: Born Twice||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 1971/2011||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 8||Rating: 80%|
|Running Time: 37:44|
We’re all familiar with the old phrase, “They don’t make ‘em like they used to”. More often than not it’s spoken by someone who is referring to the erosion in quality - in comparison to when they were young - that takes place over the years and decades: Vinyl is superior to CDs, the Packers of the 60’s would trounce their modern day counterparts, MS-DS is better than Windows and so on and so on. The same holds true for the music scene in that, depending on who you talk to, bands from after the turn of the century are inferior to those from the 90’s, 90’s groups rank a notch below their 80’s equivalents while the 80’s lag behind the 70’s.
But you know what, they may have a point here- at least as far as the 70’s are concerned. Just consider the well known (and still highly regarded) group’s that experienced many of their best years during the decade in question: Van Halen, Kansas, Styx, Aerosmith, Kiss, Queen and Led Zeppelin just to name a few. To understand my point one must first answer the following question: Four decades from now will there still be an audience for many of today’s cookie-cutter-modern-screamy-core-this-and-core-that-rap-fill-in-the-blank bands that are about as memorable as fast food? Perhaps I am also guilty of the “they don’t make ‘em like they used to” mentality, but if so I also have a point in that a case can be made that the music of the past brings a bit more substance than that which is currently popular.
It applies equally well to the Christian music scene, which saw the likes of Randy Stonehill, Larry Norman, Phil Keaggy and Resurrection Band trace their beginnings to the Jesus Music era that got its start in the early 70’s. The fact is a TON of great music came out of the period that, unfortunately, has fallen beneath the radar due to either being so obscure that it is next to unknown or almost impossible to find. Ever hear of Agape, Wilson McKinley, All Saved Freak Band, Fraction, Malcolm & Alwyn, Ron Salsbury & JC Power Outlet and Azitis? If you are like me then you might have a passing knowledge of some but more than likely have not had the opportunity to actually listen to many of the aforementioned. This, however, changes as a result of Born Twice Records (a division of Retroactive Records), a label dedicated to classic Jesus Music artists and their releases (both past and present).
The Exkursions are the most recent group to join the Born Twice roster. A power trio that came out of Chicago in the late sixties, The Exkursions established itself as one of the first evangelistic rock bands and played a foundational role in the growing Contemporary Christian Music scene of the time. The group got its start by touring extensively, performing at literally hundreds of clubs, coffee houses and college campuses prior to taking a break long enough in 1971 to record its 8 song independently released full length debut. The album, obviously long out of print and a highly prized collector’s item, was re-mastered and re-issued by Born Twice in late 2011.
Musically, The Exkursions have been compared to Cream and Hendrix as a result of bringing a sound that can best be described as “heavy blues influenced hard rock with a psychedelic feel”. Yes, the Cream and Hendrix references are relevant, but if you like more recent artists such as Glenn Kaiser Band, The Rex Carroll Band, Thieves & Liars, Darrell Mansfield and Gypsy Carns/Prophet AZAL then I can see The Exkursions being of interest. The more blues driven material of Resurrection Band - and by that I am referring to “The Crossing”, “Someone Sleeps” and “Rain Dance” - must be noted as well. As a matter of fact, the Resurrection Band cover (off Silence Screams from 1988) of the old Eric Clapton tune “Presence Of The Lord” is a good indicator of what The Exkursions are about.
Yes, The Exkursions highlight a heavy blues influence, as aptly demonstrated on “Baby You Lied” and “You & Me”, with their traditional blues rock flavorings, and “Picture Women”, a more upbeat piece giving rise to a gutsy and gritty feel. The group can rock hard as well, which it does on the scorching Rez Band-like “It’s Been Set Down” in addition to the front to back unrelenting tempos to “Dry Ground” and “What Happened To Me”. “Third Eye”, combining some psychedelic instrumental jam tendencies with a laid back groove touch, represents The Exkursions at their best. The band even mellows out in adding some keyboards on the slower Gospel based “Would You Believe”.
Founding member Mike Johnson handles vocals and guitars. Vocally, he brings a gritty and gravel soaked bluesy heavy style that has much in common with Glenn Kaiser, Darrell Mansfield and Gypsy Carns. His guitar work stands out equally well (the guy would give Stu Heiss and Carns a serious run for their money) in showcasing soloing that ranges from fiery (“It’s Been Set Down”) to open air distorted (“Third Eye”) to jazz flavored (“Dry Ground”).
Phil Johnson (no relation) is a monster heavy footed drummer. His best work can be found on “It’s Been Set Down”, which starts to a lengthy drum solo and features some relentless pounding the skins throughout. But what really sets him apart is how much sound he gets out of what (as far as I can tell) amounts a basic drum kit; in other words, none of this non-stop double bass stuff that at times can get monotonous from today’s bands.
Production is quite solid for an independent release recorded using early 70’s technology. I am sure re-mastering, courtesy of J Powell at Steinhaus, cleans things up significantly, although I do not have an original vinyl copy to invite comparison.
Lyrics leave little doubt as to the bands faith. This is best exemplified on “What Happened To Me” - Now let me tell you what happened to me. When I finally got help eventually, I opened up my heart and let Jesus in. And he swept out all that garbage within. Come on people. Can’t you see there is only one person going to set you free – and “Would You Believe”: Would you believe that Jesus talks to me? I’m no longer a victim of fate. You see someone came and told me about Jesus. How he lived and died so long ago. “You & Me” makes a statement of faith - Jesus gives life meaning. Give Him the chance. You will find out that it is true – while “Dry Ground” offers the following words of wisdom: You can mend a broken birds wings if you try. You got to mend the wing with truth not a bunch of lies.
The Exkursions prove without a doubt that “they don’t make ‘em like they used to” on their self-titled debut. The group’s “throwback” sound, in other words, will be certain to appeal to those into 70’s rock, blues based rock and straight forward hard rock. If your tastes trend towards the metal side of things then by all means give The Exkursions a chance- you could very well end up pleasantly surprised as a result.
Track By Track
“Picture Woman” represents quintessential blues driven heavy rock. The song rumbles its length to raw and edgy guitars and heavy set drums but with a grooving beat upholding the backdrop. Lead guitar comes across every bit as gutsy while the sandpaper lead vocals align with the dogged scene. Fans of Glenn Kaiser Band will embrace this one.
“Dry Ground” takes the more assertive heading. Fast paced and up-tempo, the song reinforces a churning low end and some hook driven undercurrents to establish a milieu on the catchy side of things. Instrumental moments give rise to a jazzy jam based flavoring.
A traditional blues influence can be found on “Baby You Lied”. The song plods its length in trenchant fashion as Mike Johnson has a field day on guitar, laying down some perseverant rhythm guitar but also cutting loose with searing leads that start slowly but end up floating between the left and right channel. It does not get more psychedelic than that, huh?
“What Happened To Me” showcases a return to up-tempo territory. This one is spirited but brief at just two and a half minutes, intermingling some fast paced guitar riffs with the occasional drum solo and Mike Johnson’s rapid fire vocal delivery. Lead guitar almost gives rise to a funky feel this time around.
A bit of variety is presented on “Third Eye”. The song starts its first couple minutes to an improvised conversation between band members that segues to a stretch of distorted open air lead guitar. The final four minutes to “Third Eye” take a nonchalant groove based heading, underscoring some spoken word moments and a swirling chorus sustained by abundant backing vocals.
“You & Me”, similar to “Baby You Lied”, is steeped in traditional blues. This one slogs its way, sometimes laid back and at others rollicking but all the while exuding a ton of grit laden attitude and pull you in on first listen proclivity. Musicianship is also a strength as Mike Johnson delivers more fiery licks and chops and Phil Johnson some technically done drum work.
“It’s Been Set Down” starts to a lengthy drum solo, something you do not often hear on studio recordings (at least during current times). When the guitar kicks in after a minute, we are treated to by far the albums heaviest moments- and by that I mean Rez Band heavy in that this one would not sound out of place on Awaiting Your Reply and Rainbow’s End. Otherwise, we are treated to an onslaught of driving riffs and powerful drumming with some flashy soloing thrown in.
The slower and more relaxed direction is taken on “Would You Believe”. This one is characterized by its calmer guitar flavorings - nowhere near as rocking as those preceding it - and hints of keyboards in the backdrop. The overall effect is a jazzy (almost flowing) pieces that helps add to the albums versatility.
Track Listing: “Picture Woman” (5:30), “Dry Ground” (3:43), “Baby You Lied” (6:01), “What Happened To Me” (2:39), “Third Eye” (5:51), “You & Me” (4:55), “It’s Been Set Down” (4:43), “Would You Believe” (4:19)
Mike Johnson - Lead Vocals & Guitars
Phil Johnson - Bass
Leon Wilson - Drums