|Musical Style: Rock||Produced By:|
|Record Label: Retroactive||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 1982/2009||Artist Website: Sweet Comfort Band|
|Tracks: 10||Rating: 75%|
|Running Time: 38:58|
It was 1972 and vocalist/keyboardist Bryan Duncan joined forces with brothers Kevin (bass) and Rick Thomson (drums) to form the initial line up of Sweet Comfort Band. The three proceeded to spend the next three years touring Southern California prior to recruiting a full time guitarist, Randy Thomas, in 1976. SCB went on to put out its self-titled debut in 1977 on Maranatha! Music only to switch to Light Records for the follow up releases Breakin’ The Ice (1978) and Hold On Tight (1979). The group’s earlier material blended elements of jazz-fusion, funk and rhythm and blues, but upon releasing Hearts Of Fire (1981), its third straight on Light Records, SCB started a trend towards a “heavier rock” direction.
Those “heavier rock” leanings in question become even more pronounced on Sweet Comfort Band’s fourth Light Records release from 1982, Cutting Edge. Up-tempo rockers “Runnin’ To Win”, “What Have You Got?” and “Valerie”, for example, represent some of the heaviest material from SCB to date while the palatial “Armed And Ready” draws upon a semi-progressiveness. Three top of the line ballads are also included, “Falling In Love With You”, “Haven’t Seen You” and “Changed Hearts”, in addition to two in “Live It” and “What Did It Mean?” that hearken back to the groups earlier days.
Initially a vinyl and cassette only release, Cutting Edge was re-issued in 2001 by M8 Records as part of the two CD set Definitive Collection only to be re-mastered and re-issued a second time by Retroactive Records the latter half of 2009.
Now, at this point it must be noted that Cutting Edge is by no means metal while its heavier material only touches upon hard rock. That said, if you need a break from metal but are in the mood for something with a guitar driven proclivity backed by polished production and accomplished songwriting then give SCB a chance. Long term fans of classic CCM, of course, will rejoice at the Retroactive re-issues, which also include Breakin’ The Ice, Hold On Tight, Hearts Of Fire and Perfect Timing.
Vocalist Bryan Duncan is an overlooked talent in the rock world. Presenting with a silky smooth and refined vocal style, Duncan can reach down and add some gut level elements to his delivery (such as on “What Have You Got?”) or convey an abundance of passion as well (the three ballads reflect this best).
Guitarist Randy Thomas proves equally able. His playing is steeped in both jazz and the blues but upon stretching and cutting loose produces many of those previously referenced “heavier rock” elements. Lead guitar wise, Thomas is a fantastic musician. I particularly enjoy the bluesy soloing he adds to “Changed Hearts” while “What Have You Got?” and “Armed And Ready” highlight a flashier side to his abilities.
Kevin and Rick Thomas also perform capably in laying a foundation of purposeful bass lines and a steady drum sound.
“Runnin’ To Win” introduces a heavier rock side to the repertoire of SCB. No, not hard rock but you will find a more than ample amount of guitars to maintain your full attention and a steadfast impetus aligning itself with a lyrical direction focusing on “running the race to win”:
I've been anxiously training,
I am young and strong and ready to go.
I've heard the gun and the race is on now,
I didn't get here just to show.
I keep running, give it everything I can.
I keep running, never looking back again.
Endure the aching deep within,
I'll keep running hard to win.
A lighter but more upbeat direction is taken on “What Have You Got?”. Showcasing a commercial pop-rock sound but intertwined with hints of edgy guitars, the song flows perfectly with its lively – almost energized – chorus and Randy Thomas’ fusion-like lead work in abundance.
A haunting ballad with a heavy rock feel, “Falling In Love With You” plods its distance with a foundation of the bottom heavy but allowing for a melodic presence in which Bryan Duncan exhibits the full range to his voice. Interestingly, the song descends into an instrumental interlude with a saxophone solo. “Falling In Love With You” proves a song of faith:
And every time I turn around,
I'm falling in love with You,
You're the one true love that I can count on.
And after all these years I've found,
I've never grown tired of You,
It's a lifetime love, only beginning.
The low key direction is maintained on “Haven’s Seen You”. The second ballad in a row, this one is upheld by a tasteful blending of piano, keyboards and polished backing vocals but, similar to much of the albums material, highlights underlining elements of guitars in just the right quantity.
I tend to pass on “Breakdown Love”, a “jangly” acoustic based piece fronted by Rick Thomson. Not that Rick is a bad vocalist, but the song fails to cut it with its country western flavorings and lack of guitar based focus. Some more fortitude and backbone is needed here.
“Valerie” gets things back on track. Giving prominence to one of the albums heaviest guitar sounds, “Valerie” borders on outright hard rock but reflects touches of the commercial with its near anthem-like chorus and periodic hints of sweeping keyboards. An intertwining of the melodic and the heavy is delivered in the process. “Valerie” is written in tribune to the person who led a new believer to the faith:
I saw a vision on the harbor,
A man was walking on the water.
I felt the waves in sweet salvation,
And spent the day in celebration.
Valerie, you always told me,
The love I seek, would someday enfold me.
Valerie, Just had to tell you,
Now I know, the love that compelled you.
The ballad “Changed Hearts” proves refreshing with its low key ambience. Now, normally I am turned off when three ballads appear on a ten song album but when they are well crafted and constructed – and such is the case here – I cannot help but stand in support. Of particular note, Thomas proves quite deft with how he decorates things with his well placed bluesy lead work. The message here revolves around making a change for the better:
Changed hearts make changed lives,
And I see one in you, when I look into your eyes.
Changed hearts make changed lives,
And I see one in you - See one in you.
Changed hearts make changed lives,
And I see one in you.
The song can make you cry,
And take your heart away.
And feeling lost sometimes,
Can be enough to turn you around.
“Live It” hearkens back to the bands earlier material with its “rhythm and blues meets contemporary pop” based sound. No, far from bad and certainly not filler but not my cup of tea either. I do, however, enjoy the saxophone that makes its presence felt throughout the song.
“What Did It Mean?”, another Randy Thomas fronted track, heads in an acoustic based rock direction. Laid back in capacity but interwoven with plenty of backing vocals, this one also does not do anything for me. Similar to “Live It”, the song is not bad but not exactly in line with my tastes. I can see how long term fans of SCB might like it.
“Armed And Ready” is the best composition ever from Sweet Comfort Band. An element of the progressive is delivered by the song, found in time changes ranging from keyboard driven verses – in which Thomas handled lead vocals - to a guitar edged chorus upheld by Duncan’s smoother vocal abilities. What is the outcome? A sublime – almost symphonic – environs that, for a lack of better words, was way ahead of its time. I am surprised this has not been covered by one of the better power/progressive metal bands out there. Spiritual warfare is the subject at hand:
I am preparing to face the fight,
Put on my helmet and fasten it tight.
Wearing the armor that keeps my heart pure,
Take up the shield that will help me endure.
My only weapon, a mighty sword,
My one allegiance to my King and Lord.
I live my life by the words that He says,
That is what gives me the cutting edge.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Runnin’ To Win” (4:09), “What Have You Got?” (3:14), “Falling In Love With You” (3:37), “Haven’t Seen You” (4:51), “Breakdown Love” (3:17), “Valerie” (3:31), Changed Hearts” (3:44), “Live It” (4:07), “What Did It Mean?” (3:36), “Armed And Ready” (4:46)
Bryan Duncan – Lead Vocals
Randy Thomas – Guitars & Lead Vocals
Kevin Thomson – Alembic Bass
Rick Thomson – Drums
John Schreiner – Keyboards
David Hlebo –Soprano Sax
John Phillips – Tenor Sax
Victor Feldman - Percussion