project martyrsA message well worth hearing, delivered by some of Christian Music's finest classic rock players...

The Project: Martyr's Prayers
The Project (Michael Glen Bell and Duane W.H. Arnold with a various of artists)
Saints and Survivors Music
12 tracks (10 tracks + 2 bonus tracks) / 51:40

Talk about taking on an unpopular and difficult subject for what can best be described as a rock album... Hey, how about an album of prayers? Let's say... martyr's prayers?! Try pitching that one to a major label...

And so it was that Michael Glen Bell and Duane W. H. Arnold turned instead to their friends and fellow-travelers from the early days of the Jesus Movement to try to capture the ragged, renegade spirit that drove the music of that day – and I'm happy to say that the results are excellent.

Leaving commercial sensibilities behind, Bell and Arnold enlisted the help of 'old friends' like Phil Keaggy, Glen Kaiser, Randy Stonehill, Margaret Becker and the McCrary Sisters. Additional players like super-guitarist Mike Pachelli and Glass Harp drummer John Sferra add some serious musical support to this already classic line-up. Mix in the more contemporary talents of former Elms guitarist Thom Daugherty (who mixed the album and adds his substantial guitar work on some tracks) and his former band-mate, Owen Thomas (who designed the package art) and you have a real meeting of generations joining in to make this project palatable to an audience that may never have heard of Fox's Book of Martyrs.

Obviously, the over-used 'leave your ego at the door' rule didn't even need to be brought up on this project, even though the talents involved could certainly be billed as a super-group in terms of their collective history and pedigree. Thanks to the collective sense of purpose of the artists involved, the project maintains a dignity and gravitas suitable to the lyrical content, which is based on the prayers and writings of martyrs from Beckett to Bonhoeffer. This is not to say that the participants don't rock – they certainly do. Introspective, contemplative moments stand side-by-side with edgy, powerful moments that will make the guitar-heads out there quite happy. Keaggy's emotionally powerful coda to "Carpus," (following a more subdued string section) will produce chills.

It's also somewhat of an accomplishment that a song based on the prayer of a man martyred circa 308 AD rocks as freely and fiercely as "Quirinus" does (thanks to the guitar work of Daugherty and the pounding drums of Sferra), while the back-up vocals of the McCrarys lend a Jimmy A / Vector feeling to the over-all sound..

The booklet included in the package gives a brief bio of the particular martyr referenced in each track – good information. The songs are simply titled by the names of each martyr: "Ignatious," "Clement," "Quirinus, " etc. The music is affecting and often powerfully moving. The lyrics at times might sound like they're a bit awkwardly fit into the music but this criticism becomes less important as the content of the prayers eventually overtakes the craft of lyric-writing. A more valid criticism would be the inclusion of the two bonus tracks, which are re-workings of the first track, "Romero," rendered in fairly awkwardly-delivered Spanish, and then Portuguese.

The Project: Martyr's Prayers is a worthwhile listen and a refreshingly bold experiment, very much in the spirit of the pioneer Christian rockers whose main focus was using their art to communicate a message. This is a message well-delivered and well worth hearing.

-Bert Saraco