Keaggy, Bennett, Stonehill and Storm - bound together by a single theme on the same project. Does it work? Sometimes.....
Songs For Israel
Artist: Phil Keaggy, Randy Stonehill, Bob Bennett, Buck Storm
Label: Candelight records
Length: 12 tracks / 49:38
Let's start by saying what Songs For Israel is not – it's not the Christian super-group that the names Keaggy, Stonehill, Bennett and Storm would suggest. Well, okay – I thought Buck Storm might be a character in the new Captain America movie, but that's beside the point. Where was I? Oh, yes – Songs For Israel. The songs on this project highlight the individual artists pretty much as solo performers with each contributing his own unique vision to the album (often aided and abetted by the versatile, multi-talented Mr. Keaggy). The unifying theme is a pilgrimage to Israel and other Biblical locales designed to inspire these musicians to produce inspirational works uniquely flavored by the Holy Land itself.
Comprised of one fine instrumental track ( "Exiled") and eleven vocal tracks, Songs For Israel starts off with the least-known participant, Buck Storm (gotta' love that name!), who comes off sounding strong - and perhaps more comfortable than the three veterans that he shares the spotlight with. Maybe it's because we really don't have preconceived expectations about Storm, but he sounds confident in this environment.
It's a pleasure to hear the warm tones of Bob Bennett once again, and he gives us what we expect, musically. The problem – for me, at least – is the lyrical task that these artists seem to have set up for themselves of fitting a verbal square peg into a lyrical round hole. From "Eyes Upon the Land: "So much trouble / so much pain, An endless supply of well-worn hate / Sorrows that no man can ever number, sown into this tiny piece of real estate / But God keeps the faithful preceding me, To tend this garden in the sand / Who keep the Torah and tell of Him, Who always keeps His eyes upon the land." The usually poetic style we're used to from Bennett seems sacrificed for the project's theme – almost as if there were a required amount of 'Israel content' to qualify. Even more awkward is the occasional attempts to fit King James scripture into modern meter – from Keaggy's "House of The Lord: "Our feet have been standing in Your gates, Oh Jerusalem / Jerusalem is built like a city / as a city that is joined together / Where the tribes go out – the tribes of The Lord..." Incorporating Biblical text into a memorable, singable melody is a difficult task.
Of course, expectations from these iconic figures are high. While the results are certainly better than average, they aren't quite up to the expected standards set by these artists, who have created an album you'll want to hear, yes – but probably won't be playing over and over again.
While you're putting down your stones, let me say that Songs For Israel is a good album and an interesting concept. For the Phil Keaggy collector (and that takes in most of us), aside from the many hats he wears as a multi-instrumentalist (the stunningly beautiful bass playing by the guitar-master is a particular treat), there's a delightful re-make of "John The Revelator" that is this album's most unique track.
Songs For Israel is somewhat of an unusual album. It's subject-specific and fairly serious in tone. Of course, there are great musicians involved. Be forewarned, though: you get a somewhat restrained Keaggy, a less poetic, less socially-aware Bennett, and a more-or-less humorless Stonehill.