Not all the Christianny music rebels get their due. Jamie Lee Rake rights that injustice with this review.
The Blest of The Blind Teeth Victory Band
The Blind Teeth Victory Band
Contemporary Christian music in the 1980s was a whirlwind of multiple revolutions. While Amy Grant made the jump from earning platinum certifications from mostly Bible bookstore sales to the testing the waters in the wider world of general market adult contemporary pop, Daniel Amos were messing about with their moniker as the former country rock band grew more brazen with their new wave moves. Steve Taylor was the most sarcastic cuss around since Gary S. Paxton while Sandi Patty held held the inspirational fort with nearly operatic vocals. Stryper's crossover success of getting metal heads without church affiliation to get into their tightly-harmonized glamminess set off a godly hard rock explosion that encompassed the hardcore and thrash that notched up sonic extremity via acts such as The Crucified and Vengeance Rising.
At what was then a less seismic level, Southern California's Calvary Chapel movement was getting behind punk and electro-pop with the sort of fervor it did pushing folk rock a decade prior. A burgeoning underground took clues from some of those less commercial styles, even industrial music, and produced a plethora of indie cassettes, with the occasional incursion of seven- and 12-inch vinyl releases.
Then there was the Blind Teeth Victory Band (BTVB). Don't feel too badly if you're old enough to remember them firsthand but don't.
The Texas combo, led by the audaciously drawling Delbert Nave, seemed like a throwback to to the styles and production values coming up from the Jesus movement hippies that brought in the prior decade; the sort whose albums could be found under the "Xian folk psych" keywords on eBay for prices that might cause your chin to hit the floor. Almost confoundingly, they could rock Southern boogie riffs like a less polished Allmans or Skynyrd and muck about for fun with Beach Boys-styled, sunny surf song craft and robotic, new wavy dance rock that could pass for a Devo demo.
That bit about being "less polished" than their worldly counterparts provides either BTVB's charm or their point of detraction, depending on the listener. And I wouldn't give the group this kind of lead-in if I didn't find them charming, right?
The cheekily-entitled Blest of The Blind Teeth Victory Band, released in 2015, commemorates Nave's 2014 death with its collection of 23 tracks, including previously-unissued and concert cuts, that cover the gamut of BTVB's aesthetic breadth.
Within the first third or so of Blest, there are few blasts of the band's buzzy, raw guitar tones, and Nave's way of keeping troubling subject matter light, as in "Minister's Daughter'"s O,. Henry-esque irony and celebrate-to-keep-from-crying "I Wanna Dance" (standing against Reagan decade troubles in Lebanon being one reason to cut a rug). Betwixt and between all that, they dive into countrified polka ("Everytime [I Feel The Spirit]") and surf pop evocation of ("We All Love The Lord"). Most reflectively, the pop folk of "I Don't Know Which I Can Turn" recalls the earnestness of nigh countless unplugged Jesus hippie LPs' pleas to unsaved listeners at least a decade before BTVB took to the studio.
For whatever reason, the title track to the band's arguably most (in)famous album, Kill A Baby, Save A Dog, didn't make the cut. But other pro-life entries in their catalog did, ranging from what could be the compilation's angriest selection, "4000 Americans Died Today," reprised later in the collection as an even fiercer concert rendition, and the borderline too-cute synth-pop story song of post-abortion salvation, "Peggy." "If You Are A Christian" and "Your Rock & Roll Don't Matter" also bring out their ornerier side, the latter with-go figure-a more explicit Beach Boys nod and Bacharach & David beside. "Gold Records" toward Blest's end questions the value of a successful music career if the Gospel can't be spread through it and fans don't care about the motivation for the art.
Their ire could be directed at the silliness perpetrated by perhaps not-so-well-meaning Christian celebrities as well as forces outside the church, too. "Demon in My Record Jacket" takes '80s fear-mongers and exposers of back-masking such as the Peters Brothers. Nave wasn't averse to putting Frank Zappa and John Lennon & Yoko Ono, among others of rock's avant garde, on his turntable, so it's understandable that he wouldn't cotton to the Peters' lack of nuance when it can to music appreciation. The band were equal opportunity satirists, though, as "I Love Those New Christian Songs" lambasts the cCm community's then-newfound aspirations to worldly pop chart acceptance and the depletion of lyrical substance.
It's at around this point where the the track list on the back of Blest's card stock gate-fold sleeve starts to differ from the disc's order. Still, there are some gems to be gleaned through the glitch. And those ruin from the act's most crazed to most commercial sentiments. "Taco Blues," wherein the protagonist ends up one of the titular Mexican morsels, numbers among their screwiest ditties, among which the acapella "Milk The Cow" would count as well. A smarm'tastic radio ad for one of their concerts provides an even more compact hoot.
"Praise Him" and "I Have Leaned (To Be Content)," however, could pass for long lost Maranatha! praise and worship choruses from the era of the band's existence, the latter with the mournful Hebraic melodic edge. The maintenance of a minor key becomes more menacing in a live rendering of the proto-grunge structured "Promeneaux #589 (Jesus Is Coming Again)," preceded by one of Nave's two bits of personally imploring, theologically literate evangelistic preaching here. Unless my ears mistake me, the original studio version provides the background for the aforementioned radio spot.
Concluding Blest with especially vulnerable, tuneful worship is the previously unissued "Hallelujah (You Are Holy)." It's sounding like Nave is older and frailer here, in what seems more like a solo recording with acoustic guitar, drum machine and youthful female background vocal (from his daughter?). If this is meant to presage the passing of Blind Teeth's leader, it's effectively haunting while also being ripe for congregational use.
In my ideal world, this just about criminally under-appreciated band would have a box set of at least three CD's commemorating Nave's home going. And what liner notes are present wouldn't be rendered moistly illegible by the reddish sepia tone picture behind it. The cover illustration of an anthropomorphized, presumably sightless, smiling molar with cane, bowler hat and sunglasses rendered by Chris Yambar ('80s publisher of indieground Christianny rock paper The Activist and longtime comic book artist for, among other titles, The Simpsons) is more than welcome to stick around.
If Blest will be the only way this unusually uncompromising, and just plain unusual, combo will be memorialized on physical media, though, it suffices fairly well. May it spread the legacy of ministerial music worth remembering more than it appears to have been up to this point.
-Jamie Lee Rake
Fan-made and -starring video of "Minister's Daughter"...
...and "I Wanna Dance"...
This is song written by Delbert Nave and Blind Teeth Victory band. Hope you enjoy