The Phantom Tollbooth
 December 1998 Pick of the month

Mitch McVicker
Artist:  Mitch McVicker
Label: Independent
Time: 10 tracks/43:17

Mitch McVicker's debut CD is strong and full of passion. But, it's been a long road getting there. You see, sometimes life seems to toss you about until you can only faintly recognize a glimpse of it. This is definitely what happened as Mitch McVicker recorded his self-titled debut album.

The story starts in the early ‘90s as McVicker was attending college at Friend's University. This was where McVicker met and was befriended by Rich Mullins, the Contemporary Christian artist who brought us, among others, the songs "Awesome God," and "Sing Your Praise to the Lord”. After college, McVicker moved to New Mexico to help Mullins on a reservation. Eventually, McVicker began to tour with Mullins. They, along with friend  Beaker, wrote a musical, Canticle of the Plains. McVicker sings lead on several of the songs from this project. See:

Finally, the time came for McVicker to have his own project. Mullins and Mark Robertson (Altar Boys, This Train) were lined up to co-produce it. But just as the album neared completion, Mullins and McVicker were involved in a jeep accident. Mullins was killed and McVicker was near death. Due to his massive injuries, head injury, collapsed lung, and crushed eye socket, McVicker was unable to work on the project for several months.

McVicker has little to say about his work, the songs already speak the desires of his heart. This project spans a broader span musically than one might expect if they had simply heard The Canticle of the Plains. These songs range from soft ballads, to a hillbilly-type song, all the way to what McVicker calls his "hard rock" song. Through the stories told on this project, a listener can easily confront the same messages that McVicker must have had in mind as he wrote the lyrics. These messages are of God's love and clinging to it.

In its entirety, the project seems to remain quite upbeat. This style particularly aids some of tunes. In the song, "Take Hold of Me," for instance, the harmonica is blended within the song precisely at the point where the listener can actually visualize the presence of God taking hold and transporting us to another place. At one brief moment of another song, this effect speeds the song up, whirling you into fast forward motion.

Lyrically, I've found the most recondite song to be a silly ditty entitled, "The Lemonade Song." The song urges us to think about our lives and how we love other people. In concerts, McVicker jokingly explains that when he first wrote this song, he thought it was stupid. But, Mullins let him perform the song at each of his concerts anyway. After a while, McVicker decided that the song was profound. You see, the song is a story of Jim, a man who has had a difficult life and somehow keeps a positive attitude about it. Some religious folk happen to come out of church at this time, one thing let to another and when they were all finished, blood was dripping from his nose. Then, he replies:

I've heard about blood
I think it stands for love
And one day I'll be sitting up in heaven on an easy chair sippin' lemonade
Love lives there.
If you're looking for a bubble-gum, version of the Gospel, don't even give this project a second thought. However, if you are looking for an acoustically strong collection of songs that press you on, this may be your ticket.

By Cathy Courtwright (11/1/98)