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Aliens and Strangers
Artist:  Various 
Label: Silent Planet Records
Time: 17 tracks/66:47 min
Silent Planet had the best venue going at Cornerstone 2000 with its "Acoustic Stage," concluding with a showcase of their terrific stable of artists on the fest's final day.  The sets turned in by Jan Krist, Phil Madiera, and Terry Taylor were among the highlights of the festival for this reviewer.

Taylor was inked too recently to have made this label sampler, but it still accomplishes its task well, whetting one's appetite for more of the 13 artists represented.  Acoustic singer-songwriters are the order of the day here, but varying from this are Krist's "God Have Mercy," colored with warmly distorted electric guitar and an accordion break, Madeira's jaunty fiddle and B-3-driven "Mysterious Ways," Skatman Meredith channeling Matthew Sweet on "Euphoria," John Fischer's folk-rocking "Some Folks' World," and a tasty piano/hammered dulcimer instrumental from Jerry & Lisa Smith.

The latest recordings by noted folkies Pierce Pettis and Brooks Williams are being distributed by Silent Planet and fine tracks from each appear here.  A compilation of songs from Williams' out-of-print indie and Green Linnet albums is out now on the label, as well.

Among the others, Steve Black, whose warm, rich voice recalls Gordon Lightfoot, stands out, as does Claire Holley's Appalachian folk gospel tune, which is reminscent of Gillian Welch.  Allen Levi checks in with an upbeat Jim Croce-like tune and Matt Jones brings a brooding track that sounds like Toad the Wet Sprocket re-formed and added a slide guitarist and nimble mandolin player.  Matt Auten sounds like a far less dynamic version of Brooks Williams or James Taylor. Rick Unruh turns in a nice song, but his voice isn't terribly distinctive. In addition, there are unreleased tracks from Krist, Black, Auten, and Meredith.

This label is definitely worth keeping an eye on.The new records by Krist, Black, and Madeira have
found their way to this reviewer's "short list" of future purchases.

Dave Draeger 07/27/2000

Silent Planet Records has, over the past few years, signed a group of artists that reads like a Who's Who in Christian folk-rock music, including John Fischer, Jan Krist, Pierce Pettis and Brooks Williams.
The label has added additional starpower by signing Terry Taylor to distribute his latest, acoustic, album, Avocado FaultlineAliens and Strangers, Silent Planet's 1999 sampler, includes songs by most of these big performers, but the bulk of the album showcases the label's other artists. among them Steve Black, Matt Auten and Skatman Meredith. Auten, Black, Krist, and Meredith get two songs each. one each from their latest albums and one previously unreleased track each.

Krist's two tunes, while good, are not quite up to the standard of her acclaimed album Curious (which Silent Planet has recently re-released).While "God Have Mercy" and "That's the Day I Fall" on the present sampler capture the plaintive aspect of her voice well, the vocal power Krist exhibits elsewhere is lacking.  That said, an average Krist song is still well worth hearing.

Matt Auten's vocals are laid back and comfortable, reminding the listener more than a little of Bob Bennett. Steve Black is more in the everyman-singer/songwriter mold; his voice and guitar-playing are less polished (which does not hurt his songs any), his lyrics very personal and engaging. Skatman Meredith is more ambitious and introspective in his lyrics, though not always successful.

There are a few real and pleasant surprises on this album in the single tracks by some of the other Silent Planet artists.  John Fischer, Phil Madeira, Rick Unruh, Jerry and Lisa Smith, Brooks Williams, Claire Holley, Pierce Pettis, Allen Levi, and Matt Jones have one song each. Phil Madeira has written songs and played hammond organ for a bewildering variety of artists. "Mysterious Ways" showcases Madeira's talents, while the lyrics describe his own experiences as an alien and a stranger feeling at home at last in the midst of a performing tour in the British midlands.  "Top Down Holiday," Levi's infections ode to the "God's in His Heaven, All's right with the world" joy of a warm sunny summer day provoked this listener to hit the repeat button.  Claire Holley's "In the Bounty of the Lord"  showcases her roots in traditional music in fine style. One could easily imagine earlier generations singing this song, though Holley wrote it herself in the 1990s.

The album also contains two fine rereleases from Pierce Pettis and Brooks Williams. "Kingdom Come," from Pettis's latest album, is Pettis at his finest. Everything, music, lyrics and vocal performance,  vividly convey faith at the center of life at its most turbulent.  "House of Truth," from Williams album "Hundred Year Shadow" showcases some fine guitar playing and Williams intellectual grappling with faith and doubt.
All this is not to imply that the work on this sampler is uniformly excellent. Rick Unruh's "Hungry Ghost" is a fine examination of the emptiness of American materialism, though the studio version on this sampler suffers by comparison to his live performance. And with all due respect to my colleague Dave Draeger, John Fischer picked the wrong song to juice up in homage to Mark Heard. Fischer's pumped-up version of "Some Folks' World" loses Heard's plaintive cry for us to try to understand how people different
than us understand life and its struggles.

Silent Planet's stated goal is albums that are "acoustically grounded, lyrically intelligent, and spiritually provocative." Fans of folk-rock who are searching for such artists will enjoy this sampler and the work of the label's artists.

Chris Parks 8/11/2000


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