|Musical Style: Melodic Hard Rock||Produced By: Dan Needham|
|Record Label: 4K Records||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2012||Artist Website: John Schlitt|
|Tracks: 11||Rating: 65%|
|Running Time: 42:34|
The name John Schlitt is most often synonymous with Petra. And rightly so, at least when considering the twenty year run the artist had with the group that included thirteen studio albums (nine in a melodic hard rock vein, three of the rock praise variety and one acoustic) and one live CD/DVD. His solo material might not be as well known but deserves every bit as much acclaim. Starting with Shake in 1995 and Unfit For Swine from a year later, Schlitt took a twelve year hiatus prior to returning with The Grafting in 2008. The Greater Cause, his most recent solo outing, hit the shelves in the spring of 2012.
Musically, the artists press material has built up The Greater Cause as a “return to his rock roots”, which it does to, well, a certain extent. Yes, the album can hit hard, as it does on the seven tracks taking a commercial melodic hard rock heading, but can also mellow out for the four others approaching things from an acoustic rock standpoint. It adds up to a best of both worlds scenario that has its good and bad points.
The heavier material here reflects a bluesy slant, such as on the aggressive “Live It Loud” (with its knife edge guitar tones) and the steadfast as it gets “Run” (highlighting occasional hints of organ). Not quite as heavy but every bit notable are “Take Me Home”, an arena rock anthem with fitting big backing vocals, and “One Of These Days”, a varied piece hinting at some darker and modern overtones. The albums best might be “Love Won’t Leave Me Alone”, delivering a ton of hooks and low-end groove to match, while maintaining the quality is “Hope That Saves The World” by cranking up the tempo and featuring every bit as much melody.
“Faith & Freedom”, the lone track here to fall short, comes across contrived with a patriotic rock feel we have encountered too many times in the past.
The albums heavier rocking numbers also serves to highlight Schlitt’s trademark gritty vocal delivery, which still shines after over six decades as a front man (most are aware the artist got his start in the seventies by recording six albums with the mainstream group Head East). Production, likewise, emphasizes a low-end wallop (bass is nailed to perfection) and more than abundant guitar sound.
The four remaining acoustic tracks will make or break The Greater Cause for you. Unfortunately, it is the latter for me in that I failed to grow into them despite repeat play. It is almost as if the artist added the four to appease those insisting the album feature some mellower moments, when in fact (at least my opinion) he should have thrown caution to the wind and rounded things out with a couple more quality hard rockers.
To the artist’s credit, the acoustic numbers do not sound the same in presenting with adequate variety. “Where I Wanna Be” reflects a worship rock touch and “The Gift (Dorla’s Song)” some classical overtones. An upbeat heading is taken on “End Of Fear”, while “The Cross Remains” highlights the more guitar driven stance.
Now, before you John Schlitt devotees get all up in arms please understand that I am not implying the acoustic numbers are bad; too the contrary they are well constructed but rather I do not find them interesting. Also keep in mind I do not have an aversion to acoustic rock, as my favorable review of Liberty N’ Justice’s Independence Day can attest. So I guess it comes down to a matter of taste, with my point being that if you like the acoustic tracks then by all means add another twenty percentage points to the final score and we will agree to disagree in the process!
At this point it must be noted my favorite John Schlitt project is the front-to-back hard rocking self-titled Project Damage Control release from 2005. This is the heading in which I hoped The Greater Cause to take.
A few other complaints: The chorus to “Live It Loud” includes some “rap” vocals that while by ne means a distraction sound out of place at the same time. Also, The Greater Cause does not feature enough distinguishable lead guitar work. What soloing there is, such as on “Live It Loud” and “Run”, proves competent but fails to stand out as it should. This is disappointing in light of the talented guitarist that could have been brought in for guest appearances, including Rex Carroll (Whitecross), Michael Phillips (The Sacrificed), Tony Palacios (Guardian) and others
Perhaps Schlitt would be better served - and recharge his creative batteries in the process - by making a final return to the mainstream scene. I would like to see the artist hook up with a producer such as Vic Rivera (AdrianGale) or Roy Z (Driver & Rob Rock) that has their ears more in tune with the current hard rock scene and possesses a better idea of how music of this capacity should be conceived. And for those that might be wondering, recording a mainstream record does not mean a Christian artist needs to “tone down” or “compromise” their message, as the solo material from Rob Rock and Neal Morse can attest.
The Greater Cause will in the end be certain to please fans of Petra and the artist’s solo material, which is by no means a bad thing. My impression is that the album reminds me of early nineties Guardian as a result of how it captures the diversity of Miracle Mile (also including its share of hard rockers and acoustic moments) but also falling short of the consistency and continuity that is Fire And Love.
Track By Track
The album opens to “Live It Loud”, a first class hard rocker with a gritty and blues drenched feel. Some of the guitar tones, as a matter of act, bring to mind Aerosmith while chorus demands your attention with its high energy feel. Again, some rap based vocals but nothing that serves to distract.
“Take Me Home” maintains the spirited proclivity. This one plays up rumbling guitars from the onset, with the tempo stark and furious and atmosphere swirling as Schlitt shines with his raspy vocal flavorings. Bigger than life backing vocals - in a similar vein as Stryper - prop up nothing less than a pristine chorus. The upshot is eighties commercial hard rock all the way. Lyric snippet:
I wish I knew then what I know now
‘Cause it caused me to fall
There’s a time when you realize
There must be something better
Than this hollow life
Sometimes the grass it isn’t
Green on the other side
My life ain’t over
I’m just turning around
I heard the Word
And my spirit cried out
A big dose of groove can be found on “Love Won’t Leave Me Alone”. A seventies aspect becomes apparent as a result, with highlighting organ and pronounced bass lines aligning with a foundation of edge laden guitar. One also cannot help but appreciate how the song effortlessly flows to its exquisitely done chorus. The upshot is a dogged environs that brings to mind early nineties Bride at its finest.
“One Of These Days” brings its variances, ranging from its lighter and delicately done verses to a weightier chorus giving rise to the more pronounced and heavy set mindset. This one really digs and bites n places, reflecting some of the albums darker moments in almost trending towards a modern sound (by no means a bad thing). Lyric snippet:
Sometimes you can wait too long
And the life you live
Makes you vulnerable
How long ‘til we stand and fight?
‘Til the hunger grows
And the pain is right?
It all will change
One of these days
When will the truth be the truth again?
When will hope not fade away?
When will change ever come to an end?
I wonder if today is one of these days?
Patriotic rock piece “Faith & Freedom” falls short. Perhaps it is the songs short length (at just under three minutes it does not allow to build) or borderline contrived feel, but the inspiration of the four preceding it is decidedly lacking. Yes, the song rocks heartily, but the patriotic lyrics themes have been done to the point of repetition. I more often than not skip ahead.
And am rewarded with the albums first acoustic piece, “End Of Fear”. Actually not bad in that the song highlights an upbeat focus, with rolling drums underpinning its spirited chorus and uplifting flair throughout. A nice touch of rhythm guitar helps carry the final minute. Lyric snippet:
But now I walk in freedom
Trusting who You are
You make the biggest of the biggest problems
Suddenly seem small
I don’t have to be afraid
I hear You when You say
This is the end of fear
This is the end of my fear
I’m learning how to let it go
I’m giving You control
"Where I Wanna Be”, acoustic track two, gives rise to a worship rock feel. Again, far from bad, but I am not drawn in either. Perhaps if the song brought a touch more rhythm guitar or some blues driven soloing it might perk my attention, but more often than not my attention ends up wondering.
Back to delectable hard rock with “Hope That Saves The World”. This one stands out with its groove driven focus, as powering guitars maneuver in and out of the mix and “hey-hey-hey” backing vocals are put to effective use. The upshot is a setting that is strapping as it gets. In the end, a good wake up calls following three straight ho-hum pieces. Lyric snippet:
Blinded with out eyes wide open
Why can’t we see
You’re the hope we need
You lit the stars
You spun the earth
You gave us life
So tell me why can’t we see?
You’re the hope that saves the world
Always searching for the greater cause
“Run” represents another gritty hard rock slab, drenched in organ and bluesy guitar while playing up the understated catchiness of its commanding chorus. Nice crunch and snarl throughout the song, mirrored in Schlitt’s full on sassy vocal performance. It does not get much better than this. Lyric snippet:
Life – is the choices we make
And God knows where they’ll take us to
So right now I will follow the Light
And I trust it will lead me on…
All the pain
That you’ve know
No more shame
Let it go
The third acoustic track, “The Gift (Dorla’s Song)”, is the lightest of the bund with its classical overtones from the use of cello. A bit too mellow and laid back for my tastes, but I can see how others might embrace it.
“The Cross Remains”, with its guitar based emphasis is the better of the acoustic number. The song starts to piano and slowly builds from there, with guitars gradually playing a more prominent role until impetus breaks out for a complementary preeminent chorus. Some nice Beatle-esque guitar harmonies close things out. Lyric snippet:
Though the hardest heart of men
Try to lead us to an end
We may fall, still our hope remains
When the darkness turns to light
When the flames begin to die
Through the smoke the cross remains
It is time to act beyond our good intentions
Pushing back no matter what the cost
We won’t let them build an altar on our sorrow
There’ll be no laughing at our scars
They’re now a part of who we are
Review by Andrew Rockwell
John Schlitt - Lead Vocals
Chris Rodriguez - Guitars
Andrew Ramsey - Guitars
Jerry McPherson - Guitars
Gary Burnette - Guitars
Ed Cash - Guitars
Matt Campbell - Bass
Matt Pierson - Bass
Tony Lucido - Bass
Joeie Canaday - Bass
Gary Lunn - Bass
Keyboards, Synthesizers & Mellotron - Peter King
Tim Acres - Organ
Matt Butler - Cello
Dan Needham - Keyboards, Percussion & Drums
Track Listing: “Live It Loud” (3:43), “Take Me Home” (3:59), “Love Won’t Leave Me Alone” (3:35), “One Of These Days” (3:47), “Faith & Freedom” (2:55), “End Of Fear” (3:49), “Where I Wanna Be” (4:02), “Hope That Saves The World” (3:28), “Run” (4:51), “The Gift (Dorla’s Song)” (3:54), “The Cross Remains” (4:25)