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December 1999 Pick of the Month

 
Yugoslavia
Artist: Tonio K
Label: Gadfly Records
Length: Time 13 Tracks/64.54 minutes

16 Tons Of Monkeys (sample)
I Know A Place (sample)
Murder My Heart (sample)

As we travel to the brink of the millennium turnaround we are asking questions about our history and asking how the future will see us. What if there was a CD that captured the spirit of our age? What if on that limited time of 74 recording minutes someone could give us the world as it is and even better than that make it a darn good listen? Tonio K has staked his claim on such an album. Yugoslavia is a revelation both artistically and journalistically.

When Mr. K released his Notes From a Lost Civilization at the end of the last decade it was evidence that he and Mark Heard held the torch of the possibilities for Christians in the arts. Though contemporary Christian music has vastly improved in the nineties, you cannot help wondering how much better it could be had we not lost Heard so early and had Tonio not gone into dormant volcano mode. Much thanks must go to Gadfly Records for resurrecting K's recording career. Ole was a hint at what we missed ten years ago and now Yugoslavia brings it right up to date.

After the horrible cover that will encourage no one to take a risk in the store, we are treated to one of the top songwriters of our day looking at the bleakness of modern times and coming out with a song, a chuckle and a whole lot of love. It is Leonard Cohen in spirit and yet--when did Cohen ever begin a song:

Nobody ever said
That life was gonna be easy
Nobody told me about this
Sometimes I just hate it
and then chuckle before going on into another song about "the fiery ordeal." The album is riddled with such juxtapositions. There's a "traditional misery we all go through." There's "all have sinned and everyone gets bitched." There's the "silent wreckage of the past." "It's a world of trouble, it's an old routine." It's seemingly Cohenesque and then there's these chinks of light, grace, hope. There's a man drenched in the reality of such a world but he has "stumbled across faith." He has found a quiet place in his heart "where there is peace beyond understanding." Love is a current theme. It is all we need. It is where it starts. It's as sure a reality as the materialistic emptiness of the "Third Richest Man in the World."

All this is fed to us from a most melodic plate with the cutlery of a wide ranging musical set of drawers. The guests give hints. There's Peter Case chugging his harmonica on Indians and Aliens, a song which is mined from the same spoken word, storytelling groove as "The Strange Case of Frank Cash and The Morning Paper" which he co wrote with T Bone Burnette for Burnette's Talking Animals album. There's the Charlie Sexton band bringing a meandering and intriguing soundscape for K's LA drawl to crawl across on "Dangerous Machine," "Nothing Mysterious," and "Practically Invisible." There's David Miner bringing a country, near Eagles, feel to the albums end on "Life's Just Hard," "Home to You" and "I've Got a Song to Sing". Check Kate Miner's fantastic backing vocal on "Sure as Gravity."

Brilliant, profound. An album of the year. A statement of the millennium. A benchmark for any Christian in the arts. This is as brilliant a lesson in how faith caresses and collides with real world as anything else this millennium apart from maybe Pop by U2.

Steve Stockman


 
 

Steve Stockman is a Chaplain at Queens University, Belfast, Ireland, where he lives in community with 88 students. He used to book the bands for Greenbelt, edits Juice magazine, has a weekly radio show on BBC Radio Ulster and a web page at http://stocki.ni.org. He also tries to spend some time with his wife Janice and 20 month old daughter Cai
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