|Musical Style: Melodic Rock||Produced By:|
|Record Label: Retroactive||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 1990/2015||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 85%|
|Running Time: 42:26|
Listening to good melodic rock is always refreshing, even that derivative from following the same repeat pattern of success often inherit to the genre, but Grace, the 1990 third and final album from Christian rock veterans Gideon’s Army, stopped us in our tracks. First two Gideon’s Army albums, Rock N’ Roll For Your Soul from 1982 (75% Angelic Warlord review) and 1986 follow up effort Warriors of Love (also 75%), might have been solid but did not exactly blow us away either. Rock N’ Roll For Your Soul owed its success to how it amalgamated a wide array of styles - rhythm & blues, classic rock, hard rock and progressive rock - and made it work in such a concise package, while Warriors Of Love relied upon a much simpler formula: radio friendly commercial hard rock and AOR.
Grace might pick up where Warriors Of Love leaves off with a similar eighties influenced melodic rock basis but in the process takes things to the next level in terms of musicianship, production, songwriting and professionalism overall. Whereas Warriors Of Love was a solid album from a group starting to get its feel wet and come into its own musically, Grace proves the handiwork of a cohesive and well-oiled unit reflective of the maturity that only comes from determination, hard work and perseverance. The ultimate difference between the two albums is similar to that of a very good sports franchise with the potential to make the playoffs but goes no further (Cincinnati Bengals) and a great one that not only reaches the postseason but also advances to the championship game in the process (New England Patriots).
Fans of Idle Cure, Novella, Petra, Sweet Crystal and early nineties Guardian will be certain to embrace opening cut “Knowing You”. The song brings all the classic ingredients one expects of the AOR genre: buoyant and upbeat tempo, perfect amalgamating of crisp guitars and keyboards, commercial hooks galore and soaring lead vocals. Speaking of the latter, Grace is the third album from Gideon’s Army to highlight the classic tenor and melodic based duel lead vocal approach of front men bassist Mark Greves and drummer Jerry Anderson. Doug Naruo also remains a holdover on keyboards.
New addition to the Gideon’s Army line up is guitar player Darin Warren, who replaces the departed Dave Angles. Impression left by follow up track “Lonely Love” is that Warren represents one of the under heralded guitar heroes of his era. Listen to his soloing at the start of the song and decisive leads throughout and I am sure you will agree that he reminds of Rex Carroll (Whitecross). In my opinion, he is that good. “Lonely Love” otherwise proves another essential upbeat melodic rocker that aligns a heavy-set disposition with the groups signatures accessible vocal melodies. No, not heavy as Whitecross, but I can see fans of the group finding it of interest.
A classic AOR album would not be complete without at least one customary ballad and such is what we have in “Christina”. The song proves slow and moody from the get go, weaving its way to a big as it gets bass line and ethereal mentality that speaks of the graceful if not delicate. The wave the lighter in the air chorus demands for play on FM radio.
Albums title track trends towards heartfelt mid-paced territory, grooving its distance to organ (keyboard work of Naruo shines as on previous Gideon’s Army releases) in complementary amounts and a distorted mix of rhythm guitar. My favorite aspect to “Grace” is the extensive instrumental section in which said organ trades off with Warren’s skillful guitar work in abundance.
The pop influenced direction to “Make Up Your Mind” delivers non-stop hooks galore. The song takes a lighter tone with its return to an upbeat heading, mirthful front to back with joyous verses and high-spirited refrain that reeks of the radio friendly. Occasional traces of acoustic guitar lend a lighter edge. Warren’s wonderful lead guitar bounces between the left and right channel.
“Open Arms” takes a calmer and more reserved heading. Steadfast and stately, the song maneuvers its length to prodigious bass and light layers of rhythm guitar in approaching straight up rock territory as opposed to hard rock. Larger than life backing vocals (one of the Gideon’s Army staples) step forward to adorn the lofty refrain. I cannot help but be reminded of Sweet Crystal.
“Tough Love” proves a raucous and steadfast rocker, one of the albums heaviest with its gritty and biting guitar emphasis and forthright rhythm section- drummer Jerry Anderson gets quite the workout accordingly. I do not know which of either Greves or Anderson handles vocals, but they are in a slighter lower register in comparison to others, an effect that proves flattering when considering the nature to the music at hand.
“With The One I Love” represents albums most varied piece. The song moves its distance transitioning between darker verses in which guitars crunch in and out of the mix over stalwart bass and a brighter chorus that finds the group’s trademark pop sensibilities make another decisive statement. Upshot is a clashing of contrasts that help turn it into one of this reviewers favorite Grace moments.
“Turn Up The Heat” does exactly that from its vibrant arena rock flair. With organ returning to play a forward role, the song smoothly propels to bountiful doses of up-tempo energy and the focused anthem-like milieu to match. The searing pull-out-all-the-stops soloing would do any guitar hero proud. Schlitt era Petra would be right at home doing something like this.
Album closes to the AOR based sounds to “Sending You”, a relaxed and easy going piece in which keyboards play a forthright role – guitars are somewhat diminished when placed alongside some here – and pleasing sing-along qualities lend an amiable feel. Upshot is the understated catchiness that defines a quality deep cut that makes an already very good album even better.
Similar to Rock N’ Roll For Your Soul, Grace was re-mastered and re-issued by Retroactive Records in the fall of 2015 (Warriors Of Love also saw Retroactive re-issue but in 2013). I do not own an original CD copy of Grace (which I understand can be quite the hard to find collectors item) to invite comparison, but to these ears it features the cleanest production of the three Gideon’s Army releases. At the very least, it proves competitive with the best production that the groups previously referenced contemporaries have to offer.
Also not unlike Rock N’ Roll For Your Soul and Warriors Of Love, the Grace re-issue comes in a 4-panel digi-pak without lyrics or detailed liner notes. Good news, however, is that lyrics are available online and leave little doubt as to how Gideon’s Army is a ministry band. This manifests itself on “Knowing You” –
There's a battle raging
Deep within my soul
It's the flesh against the Spirit,
And they're fighting for control
But the war is won
Finished at the cross
Those who really know You
Never will be lost!
- and “Grace”:
It's by the grace of Your love
By Your mercy from above
I'm tired of stumbling in the dark of the night
I'm reaching out, Lord - Gonna make it this time!
Well, You're like a lighthouse - I'm drawn by Your light
Something good's happening - I can feel it inside
“Lonely Lover” delivers a word of warning:
She comes out to meet him, and she kisses him deep
She seduces with her words of fantasy
Like a lamb drawn to the slaughter, oh, she leads him away
And he doesn't know the price he's paying is his life
Young man, listen to the wisdom of the ages
You've got to guard your heart from sin
It only brings on destruction
But to live for the Lord is to win
“Make Up Your Mind” deals with building your house on the correct foundation:
Searching for love in all the wrong places
Hoping to find your new oasis
You're building your house on sinking sand
When the storms of life come, you will never stand
Only Jesus can rescue you in the night
Oh, but you must be willing to leave this world behind
With a grade of 85%, Grace represents my favorite Gideon’s Army album. The melodic rock meets AOR leanings prove a perfect fit for the group, particularly when factoring the duel lead vocals of Mark Greves and Jerry Anderson along with talented newcomer guitarist Darin Warren. I find it disappointing that Gideon’s Army did not continue with the same line up in that a fourth record in similar direction had the potential to be killer. The best way to close the Gideon’s Army chapter would be to thank Retroactive for making all three of its releases available again.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Knowing You” (3:49) “Lonely Lover” (4:23), “Christina” (4:48), “Grace” (5:29), “Make Up Your Mind” (3:13), “Open Arms” (4:23), “Tough Love” (3:34), “With The One I Love” (4:24), “Turn Up The Heat” (4:12), “Sending You” (4:11)
Mark Greves - Lead Vocals & Bass
Darin Warren – Lead Guitar
Doug Naruo - Keyboards
Jerry Anderson - Drums & Lead Vocals