|Musical Style: Rock||Produced By:|
|Record Label: Retroactive||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 1982/2015||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 8||Rating: 75%|
|Running Time: 43:46|
San Francisco Bay Area based Gideon’s Army has always been about ministry. One need look no further than the groups early seventies Contemporary Christian Music scene beginnings, where it got its start playing acoustic based Gospel rock (sort of like the Maranatha! bands of the period from Los Angeles) in working closely with juvenile halls, the California Youth Authority and California State and Federal Prisons. Later morphing into a plugged in Christian rock act, Gideon’s Army expanded upon its outreach by also including street ministry (Jews for Jesus and S.O.S. San Francisco) along with Christian coffee houses and an ongoing concert ministry with performances at Great America, Oakland Civic Auditorium and H.P. Pavilion San Jose.
It was not until 1982 that Gideon’s Army released its full-length debut Rock N’ Roll For Your Soul, which potentially got lost in the shuffle of much heavier contemporaries such as Resurrection Band, Petra, Jerusalem, Daniel Band, Servant and Barnabas among others. It also did not help that Rock N’ Roll For Your Soul suffered from the same low distribution and lack of promotion often inherit to independent releases of the time, noting how the Vision self-titled debut from 1984 also fell beneath the radar for the same reasons. Nevertheless, after having been out of print and next to impossible to find for decades, Rock N’ Roll For Your Soul has been given a second chance at life after having been re-mastered and re-issued by Retroactive Records in the fall of 2015.
Musically, early eighties Gideon’s Army took a strong rhythm and blues slant in featuring a jazzy horn section and duel guitar attack of founding members Dave Angels and Mike Banke. But labeling Gideon’s Army as just rhythm & blues would also be inaccurate and potentially misleading in that Rock N’ Roll For Your Soul also reflects nuances of classic rock, AOR, hard rock, Southern rock and even some progressive aspects, particularly in light of how half the albums 8 tracks extend into 6 to 7 minute range. When placed alongside follow up efforts Warriors Of Love (1986) and Grace (1990), both of which took a melodic rock to AOR heading, Rock N’ Roll For Your Soul proves the most experimental and multi-dimensional of the three Gideon’s Army recordings.
Take six-minute opening cut “Light”, for instance, a slow and moody six and a half minutes carried by copious (and very flattering) Hammond B3, a marked bass presence and light rhythm guitar underpinnings. Where the song shines is during its instrumental moments, including the fusion to feedback driven first minute and instrumental break at the halfway point in which organ and lead guitar contest.
Gideon’s Army reflects its rhythm & blues sentiments on the two that follow. “Dreams” jumps out of the gate at once, a frolicking and mirthful happy go lucky piece carried by a spicy horn section and Second Coming based lyrical themes. Searing lead guitar aligns with the blithe scene. “Lift Your Heart” takes a more mid-paced approach, calmly maneuvering its first minute to guitar feedback only to gain impetus as the group’s signature horn section returns over a layer of funk-flavored bass. “The Lift your heart unto the Lord” vocal harmonies help make a worshipful statement.
“What Is Love” represents this reviewer’s choice track from its reserved progressive mentality. Albums longest at seven minutes, the song proves another deliberate and melancholic plodder in similar fashion as “Light”, exuding a forthright keyboard mix and even textures of rhythm guitars. What sets “What Is Love” apart is the extended instrumental section that features tightly woven guitar harmonies of an emotional Southern nature.
Halfway through the album and one cannot help but embrace the Gideon’s Army co-lead vocal approach, with front men Dave Angels and drummer Jerry Anderson bringing a similar classic tenor and melodic tinctured vocal style. Besides, you know you are dealing with a group that arose out of the seventies when you have a drummer that is also a lead vocalist!
Melodic hard rocker “Better Days” ranks with the albums heaviest. The keyboards at the start of the song would not sound out of place on the first couple Boston albums, while the distinct guitars that ensue deliver ample doses of edge and bite in aligning with layered vocal melodies of a copious nature. Helping to take “Better Days” past the six-minute mark is an extended jam-fusion instrumental section in which the group highlights its abundant musicianship.
Three and a half minute “On The Move” is the most guitar driven of the rhythm & blues numbers. Aligning a rollicking horn section with sharp rhythm guitars, the song gives rise to high-energy groove in abundance within a concise up-tempo package. The cool Southern flavorings return for the instrumental moments. Whereas my favorite Rock N’ Roll For Your Soul moments are its most progressive, the rhythm & blues cuts are laudable all the same- I rate them a slight notch below in above average to good territory (fans of early Sweet Comfort Band should feel right at home, though).
“New Man”, last of the six-minute tracks, also stands out with a reserved and moderate disposition. The song sets a steadfast tempo, aligning another horn section with soothing tinctures of organ and a big as it gets bass line. More melodic vocal harmonies help tie everything together. My favorite part is the saxophone solo that carries things instrumentally (sort of like “The Return” off Rez Band’s Awaiting Your Reply from 1978).
Ending the album is “Can You Still Turn Away?”, a relaxed and laid-back five minutes in which Hammond B3 (the work of keyboardist Doug Naruo deserves note) plays a heightened role along with plenty of distinct saxophone throughout. Some very complementary bluesy tinctures rise to the surface in the process. Yes, a good way to close things out, but I also cannot help but feel a better balanced track listing might have resulted if another heavier rocking and up-tempo track had been included instead.
As one might imagine for an independent early eighties release, production sounds a bit dated but not to a fault when factoring the Retroactive re-mastering. While I do not have an original copy of Rock N’ Roll For Your Soul to invite comparison, overall sound avoids any overriding thinness or muddiness. That said do not expect any big budget polish or refinement either.
The Retroactive re-issue comes in a 4-panel digi-pak with no lyrics or extensive liner notes. Lyrics, however, are available online and leave little doubt as to the Gideon’s Army ministry minded ways.
Consider “On The Move” in this capacity –
Jesus moved away the stone
Threw the devil off the throne
Comin' back to life
He lives - Every life to us He gives
For He's on the move, provin' that he's God
For He's on the move; the solid rock
Christ is risen to His throne
We'll be taken to our home
You can live here in your sorrow
But I'm leavin' maybe tomorrow
- in addition to “Light”:
With your heart, embrace the depth of Wisdom
And you'll find it all returns to simple Truth
For His foolishness is beyond our wisdom
And His weakness is beyond our strength
Take my hand, and I will lead you
To the One who has the power to give you life
Face the light, my friend, and you'll see God's reflection
Face the light, my friend, and you'll finally see
Again, “Dream” deals with the Second Coming:
I had the very strangest dream last night
I saw a flash of glory from on high
It happened in the twinkling of an eye
I saw myself a-flyin' through the sky
When I reached the clouds, I realized
That I was not alone in my surprise
I looked around, and saw to my delight
That all my friends were flying by my side
“Can You Still Turn Away?” delivers a salvation message:
Can you still turn away
After all that He has done?
God has purchased all your sin
Through the suffering of His Son
If you trust in Jesus
He will give you a new life
No more death...you're a child of God!
Can you really pass Him by?
Rock N’ Roll For Your Soul adds up to a very fine Christian rock album for its era. I believe that ‘rock’ is the best description of what is going on here musically in that Gideon’s Army does not have the guitar driven oomph to fall within hard rock territory but also features enough backbone to set itself apart from much of the CCM of the time. Musical variations also play a key role in that how many of the Gideon’s Army contemporaries mixed aspects of classic and Southern rock, AOR, rhythm & blues and progressive rock and make it work in such a concise package?
Ultimately, I feel a great deal of the Rock N’ Roll For Your Soul success attributes to its independent release, which allowed Gideon’s Army to exercise that much more creative freedom in light of how different the album might have turned out if released on a CCM label. By going independent the group did not have to worry about some slick label executive hovering over its shoulders and suggesting “Guys in order to make this work, I am going to need you to stick to a three and a half minute verse-chorus-verse format for me, OK”. Hence, the musical experimentation and songs extended past six minutes that you did not often see from early eighties Christian groups. Give credit to Retroactive for making such a difficult to find album available again to hard music fans.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing; “Light” (6:21), “Dream” (4:27), “Lift Your Heart” (4:37), “What Is Love” (6:58), “Better Days” (6:10), “On The Move” (3:37), “New Man” (6:38), “Can You Still Turn Away” (4:58)
Lead Vocals & Bass - Mark Greves
Lead Guitar - Dave Angels
Organ & Synthesizers - Doug Naruo
Drums & Lead Vocals - Jerry Anderson
Saxophone - Rob Carey
Trumpet - Rob Brockman