The Phantom Tollbooth
With Abandon
Artist: Chasing Furies
Label: Sparrow Records
Length: 53:37 minutes/ 11 tracks

According to classical Greek mythology, the Furies were avenging goddesses that punished criminals through life and beyond death. Usually limited to three in number, they were often described as horrible, hideous creatures with snakes for hair and really nasty attitudes, which is probably the (super)natural result of either spending most of their time in Hades or haunting offenders, murders, perjurers, and young Greeks who had trouble obeying their parents. These three hags aren't quite the kind of company you want to seriously pursue to any degree. Gratefully, the band Chasing Furies is neither hideous nor offensive, does not advocate stalking spooks, and has less to do with Greek mythos than our Risen Lord.

A savvy MTV correspondent described Chasing Furies as "Radiohead meets Jonatha Brooke." Whereas that is accurate, they also sound like the edgier, less organic side of Over the Rhine cross-fertilized with '70s glam rockers Heart, and as such bear some resemblance to Raspberry Jam's Oceanic period. Flawless female harmonies flirt with swirling guitars and driving rhythms. Add intertwining layers of both ethereal and tinkly keyboard bits and other sonic goodies, and their full, thick sound is complete. It's nearly gothic, but with a wider, more commercial appeal, and ranges from delicate ballads to rockier radio hits. Perfect, if you are looking for gentle modern rock music without all the crunchy edges frayed off.

The band itself is comprised of siblings, Sarah, Joshua and Rachel Meeker, who currently call Boulder, Colorado home. Together they aim to promote hopeful messages and the Truth of the Gospel to disenfranchised youth on the fringe. This mission is also at the heart of their ad hoc Denny's ministry where they hang-out at the local Boulder franchise, making themselves available to talk and encourage club kids, street people, and other nocturnal folk over cheap coffee and flapjacks. Many after-midnight Denny's denizens are a long way from the church door, and Chasing Furies wants to reach them as figurative salt shakers.

With this population's situation in mind, principal songwriters Joshua and Sarah Meeker have penned some surprisingly good songs that avoid the evangelical clichés normally associated with music meant to be ministering. Using simple phrases and poetic metaphors, their songs pit despair against vanquishing hope, and create a sense of longing that finds its only fulfillment in surrendering fully to God. Although ambiguous at times, the lyrics also display the requisite honesty and vulnerability needed to intrigue listeners for whom Christian contemporary music is utterly foreign if not completely dismissible. In one of the album's most obviously Christian moments, "I Would Drown," Joshua Meeker implores the Lord:

         Oh, I need your healing touch upon my head
         I need your bread
         I would jump into your river
         I would drown to be alive in you

         I've sat and watched the autumn rain
         As it filled the rivers up again
         I've heard your gentle voice begin to sing
         "I love you."

This particular song is one of two cuts that Joshua Meeker sings lead vocals on and, rather than being distractions, work as welcome, desirable breaks from his sister Sarah's more lush vocal work and respectable songwriting. Much of the band's successful sound is not merely the result of all three sibling's obvious talent, but the other musicians contributing drums, bass, piano, and extra guitar work. It is not clear whether these musicians are full-fledged band members, studio musicians, or a combination of both, or even how much credit their contribution is due. The band may or may not be able to duplicate this lavish, full sound in a live setting, but their current tour with The Waiting and upcoming Cornerstone appearance will be the proof.

Frankly, the album packaging is a bit dull for a band with such sonic texture, but Sparrow Records at least gets credit for promoting worthy contemporary artists instead of pouring all their energies into their recent Keith Green resurgence efforts. Although Chasing Furies skirt a sound that some would deem over-produced, mainstream alterna-art-pop, they transcend this glutted genre by displaying some real charm and quality. They are just plain good at what they do, and this is one of the most satisfying debut albums to come out in some time. More innovation and time and experience in the trenches should catapult this band into even greater arenas and widespread popularity. Even among snake-haired demi-goddesses looking for a sure way out of Hades.

Steve S. Baldwin   (4/7/99)

It would seem that the three siblings that front Chasing Furies come by both their spiritual and musical inclinations honestly. Lead guitarist Joshua Meeker and his sisters, vocalists Sarah and Rachel, are second-generation preacher's kids, and both their father and grandfather are church worship leaders.  The Dallas area band began by making the rounds at local coffeehouse open-mic nights before performing at the annual Christian Artists Seminar in Estes Park, Colorado in 1997.  For their Sparrow Records debut, With Abandon, the trio deftly mines the last three decades of rock and pop music, taking its cues from an eclectic set of influences.  The soft pop of "Throw Me" and "Enchanted" is a ringer for the contemporary alternative soft rock of artists like Out of the Grey and Considering Lily, while the majestic acoustic texture of  "Fair Nights Longing" is along the lines White Heart and Bon Jovi's late '80's and early '90's power ballads. The laid back, improvisational groove and bare instrumentation of "Nothing" are pure crossover jazz, while the thick guitar texture, swaggering backbeat and piercing vocal work on "Thicker" hark back to Heart's finest work during the mid-and late '70s.

The album deals chiefly with relationships, employing mostly romantic language and a sometimes obscure writing style which tends to initially render a good number of the album's topics nebulous. Oddly enough, though, it is precisely this type of shaded wording, together with Sarah Meeker's beautiful and well-crafted poetic imagery, that makes the release so engaging. Clever word portraits, such as that of God's wooing of man in "Whisper Softly" (Lilacs filling our senses looming/Moonlight indigo swoons around us/You thought you'd lie and wait/For me to whisper softly/'You are mine') and of man's yielding to God in "I Surrender" (I'd quickly forgotten what I'd once so adamantly proclaimed/With no one left standing I am the only one left to blame/I was so strong yet so blinded/Now you've taken my heart to where I'll never find it) seem virtually bound to nudge listeners towards a closer examination of the album's themes.

For all of its impressive musicianship and lyrical work, the debut effort isn't perfect.  The inordinate amount of sonic treatment on "Writhe for Hearing" is mostly relegated to noise and comes across as more gratuitous than contextual.  And the energetic wall of distorted guitar and bright orchestral flourishes on "I Would Drown" are still not enough overcome an overly dissonant texture and unimaginative chord structure on what is essentially a weaker song.  Still, the effect of shortcomings such as these is minute in the overall context of the album. It is more than offset by the trio's stunning vocal work, tight harmonies and topnotch songwriting, all of which contribute to making With Abandon such a sparkling and cohesive musical statement and, indeed, one of the better releases so far of 1999.

Bert Gangl (4/25/99)

Lush, textured art-pop with a few aggressive moments. Both male and female vocals take the lead at different points and the overall effect varies from earthy to ethereal. Some listeners may find a couple of the songs a little contrived, but it's a relaxing album that rewards careful listening.

James Stewart  (4/21/1999)

Every now and then a major label latches onto an act residing just outside the borders of the status quo. Chasing Furies are the latest such act, a trio of siblings playing modern rock with worshipful lyrics. That might not sound terribly unusual, but it's done terribly well. Sarah and Joshua Meeker's songwriting reflects how troubled pasts give way to total devotion to God in the present.  Some might say these guys are dark, but in reality their work only invokes the same concerns and passions found in the Psalms. Add to that the impeccable production touches of Brent Milligan and Monroe Jones, and you wind up with what could be the best major-label debut this year.

Tommy Jolly (8/3/99)

Chasing Furies’ first five songs start out with an ethereal sound. The most striking among these is “Throw Me.” The song starts and stops like a roller coaster jolting you, forcing one to listen. As if one is on an airplane, every time the song seems to be taking flight, it grinds to a stop and is silent; then starts into passionate flight, then silence. It is actually a pleasant roller coaster ride because of Sarah Meeker’s brilliant use of silence and provocative pauses in verses and between. She exploits the suspense with her beautiful voice throughout the album.

"Fair Night’s Longing” is a positively beautiful song that Sarah Meeker described at the Cornerstone Festival as a song about her late nights at Denny’s in Boulder, Colorado ministering to strangers that would approach her while she sat writing. She said they would talk to her of their problems. In the song, she calls her attraction to them “the fragrance of Christ.” Lyrically, the song touches the heart and describes the invisible spiritual world in a very effective way.

 Sarah Meeker’s breathy vocals are soothing to the ears and warming to the heart. They swirl around in the air and the mind long after the CD player is silent.

Israel Kloss