Yes, Petra means 'rock' but John Schlitt out-rocks the CCM icons on his new album...
The Greater Cause
Label: 4K Records
Time: 11 tracks / 42:19 minutes
John Schlitt's distinctively soulful, gritty, powerful rasp is one of the most iconic and identifiable vocal instruments in the history of Christian rock. With performing roots in the secular market (with Head East), Schlitt lent a good dose of credibility to the legendary arena rock band Petra - infusing new life into the franchise and carrying on with them to even higher heights. So much for the history lesson. The question is – does he still have what it takes to be relevant and not just another aging rocker propped up by a small army of studio musicians trying to replicate the past?
Is the Pope German?
Are bananas yellow?
Does Bob Hartman wear a hairpiece?
In other words – oh, yeah. John Schlitt's still got it.
The Greater Cause stars out as explosively as the opening of WWE's Monday Night Raw and ends with a powerful Beatle-esque anthem with nine powerful songs sandwiched in between. Make no mistake – The Greater Cause is a fine classic rock album - with edge, power and hooks to spare. Schlitt co-wrote seven of the eleven songs here and there's not a measure of filler material in the bunch. Backed by first-rate musicians, Schlitt and his friends (among them such dependable players as Chris Rodriguez, Jerry McPherson, Peter King and Dan Needham) perform an impressively memorable set of tunes that bristle with energy and shine with fine production. Funded by a kickstarter program, The Greater Cause sounds every bit as good as any project financed by a major label, but with the added bonus of the artist being free to do exactly what he wants to do.
For many people, the appeal of The Greater Cause will rest on whether or not you like the sound of John Schlitt's voice - a pretty much subjective issue. If you dig Bob Dylan's vocals you'll love Dylan's work. On the other hand, if you feel like Bob's voice needs a laying-on-of-hands, anointing oil, and a deliverance ministry intervention, you simply will not be able to get past that to enjoy his work. The same is true of Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart and, yes – John Schlitt. Schlitt's voice might be an acquired taste, but one well-worth acquiring!
Even though Schlitt's voice is a spectacularly raucous rock instrument, he's equally effective on ballads, delivering undeniably romantic lyrics in a Rod Stewart-like intimate rasp on "The Gift" (a love song to his wife), and turning in a powerfully emotional, stirring performance on "The Cross Remains," as impressive a closing track as any I've heard in recent years. Like other well-known 'raspy rockers,' the rough edges on his vocal delivery add an extra dose of emotion on the slower songs as well as extra punch on the straight-out rock numbers.
Packed with edgy rock, and funkier than Petra ever got,The Greater Cause is a reminder of what great classic rock albums are supposed to sound like, with a smartly-assembled track-order, strong, clean production, crisp, tight instrumental performances (featuring tasty guitar solos and solid drumming) and of course, power-packed vocals: this is what fine classic rock is all about. If one insists on classifying projects according to a musical period instead of the intrinsic quality of the work itself, I'd have to say that The Greater Cause would hold its own against the best of the classic rock period. Personally, I say you should just forget about how retro this album is or isn't – it's just a really good rock album. End of story.
These well-written songs do exactly what they're supposed to do – they entertain while you're listening and linger in your mind long after the CD's stopped spinning. Lyrically, the project is from a distinctly Christian world-view, often featuring the tensions of being a believer in an frequently-hostile environment but also focusing on personal relationship issues, like on "Where I Wanna' Be," where we hear John sing, "If love could set the world on fire, What would it burn away / What would remain? Would it build a bridge between us? If love would rain for forty days, Would it wash away the pain Of bitter days and all the lies that came between us? And conquer all the fears in me? That's where I wanna be."
The Greater Cause isn't a ground-breaking project but it certainly gets the job done as a meat-and-potatoes rock album absent of shoe-gazing indie pretentiousness – a real good listen by any standard, with the bonus of delivering a positive and often inspiring message. Recommended.
- Bert Saraco
4 1/5 TOCKS.