The Phantom Tollbooth
October '98 Pick of the Month
John Wayne
Artist: Terry Scott Taylor
Label: Stunt Productions/KMG Records
Time: 10 tracks/41:32
Virtually every so-called "Christian alternative modern rock" band owes a hearty debt to the granddaddy of ACM, Terry Taylor. After all, when he and his band, Daniel Amos, traded in their cowboy hats and cowpoke tunes for 3-D glasses and smart New Wave pop ditties back in the late seventies, "Christian Music" embarked on a curious, much needed path, raising the creative bar for all to follow. Terry Taylor is the pioneer that blazed the trail.  A mighty master of sonic distortion; a giant among his petite peers (and humble, too); a bona fide force of fury for the cause of good; (I'll stop now). When all these new, young upstart bands are done kissing his feet, they ought to check out his latest album, John Wayne, to see how it's done. Their forefather is still making music a step ahead, with hits galore, and a big fat booty of wisdom besides.

John Wayne finds Taylor doing what he has always done best: creating a musically eclectic album of thought-provoking and faith-inspiring content. It is his umpteenth album in a career spanning 20 plus years as the main man behind such bands as Daniel Amos and The Swirling Eddies, and a principal member of the Lost Dogs. However, it is only the fourth to bear his name as a solo album.  He'd be the first to tell you that his albums are never really solo efforts, however. Here he shares the stage with an impressive host of friends, including his Lost Dogs pals--Mike Roe on guitars, Derri Daughtery on guitars, and Gene Eugene on keyboards--as well as Daniel Amos members Tim Chandler on bass and Ed McTaggert on drums. Additionally, former Prayer Chain member Andy Prickett grinds some guitar parts, the ubiquitous Phil Madeira adds keyboards, accordion, and lap steel, and Burleigh Drummond plays some percussion. Together they generate a tight, textured sound with great energy and enthusiasm.
Those familiar with Taylor's previous solo albums may be surprised to find that this one has less in common musically with the mellower fare of Knowledge and Innocence or Briefing for the Ascent. It certainly has more straight-forward lyrical content than the brilliantly absurd bits from Neverhood Songs.  In fact, John Wayne has much more in common with recent Daniel Amos offerings. He has effectively combined a sound that is most reminiscent of Bibleland, Songs of the Heart and the best bits from Kalhoun. The result is an infectiously furious, gutsy rock band sound with jangly guitars, slippery bass, big beats, instantly memorable melodies, rich harmonies, and lots of appropriately noisy bits. Although somewhat similar in overall orchestration, none of the songs sound the same, and everyone of them is catchier than striped bass in a fish breeding pond (meaning that you won't be able to stop singin' along).
Taylor has taken his inspiration from close to home, with songs centering on Orange County, John "The Duke" Wayne, and the John Wayne International Airport. Don't be fooled, however, by this clever veneer. Every song is actually an opportunity for Taylor to sing his signature songs of overcoming life's difficulties through the light of love, faith, hope, and strident dependence on our Great God of Grace. He is at his introspective best on this collection. For example, "Mr. Flutter" finds Taylor as honest, crafty, and accessible as ever:

         Well, I'm tryin' to write a song
         But I don't have the words
         And my kids need a doctor
         But I'm not insured
         And my wife she looks pale
         She got the check in the mail
         And it's not the amount
         We were thinking about
         I got a friend on high
         And he feels my pain
         But I still got this dust
         Flowin' through my veins
         And I want to have faith
         And I want to know grace
         But it's hard to break through
         When the rent's overdue.
Later, in a throwback to his country-roots days in "Ten Gallon Hat," Taylor offers his trademark brand of humor and wit in a song that reminds his avid fans to accept him as both saint and sinner.  This tension of being both beloved of God and wading in the nasty mud this side of heaven is a theme that carries through much of this album, and finds its most beautiful fruition in the album's last track. "You Lay Down" accurately and breathtakingly depicts Jesus as accepting us despite our evil inclination.  One of the best, most effective, engaging, and captivating songs he has ever penned, "You Lay Down" is right up there with "My Hand to God" as a new hymn worth hearing.

         You didn't say a word when we accused you
         You did not fight back when we scarred and bruised you
         When hate was crowned king your love never diminished
         You stood meek as a lamb there without blemish
         And we laughed when you cried out: "It is finished"
         So you lay down and I'll step upon your back
         Up high enough, above the fence, to see all the way to glory land.
More could be said about this ingenious album which time may title his Darn Floor, Big Bite for the nineties, but why spoil all the Tayloresque surprises.  If nothing else, this album closes the case on whether or not Taylor has still got it. John Wayne approaches his best work, with its intimate, appealing, and witty window into the soul of one who wrestles with God. God must let Taylor win a few of those matches, just because he loves him so dearly, and this album is your ringside ticket for the bout.
By Steven Stuart Baldwin (9/7/98)


Country, New Wave, alternative rock, computer game soundtracks, satirical punk... Terry Taylor has been around several musical blocks over the past two decades. Now seemingly more settled with his position at KMG Records, this recording provides the listener with a sound which shows influences from all his previous work.

The album opens darkly. The string-section backing for "Writer's Block" has a slightly strained feel as Taylor's customarily well-crafted lyrics take a look at questions which confront some of those who choose to express themselves in this medium:

After this dense opener the musical tone lifts somewhat. Surf music has been on Taylor's mind recently with the release of the Surfonic compilation, and that influence is clear, but the sound is more diverse than that. This is highly-produced yet varied rock music that slips past most pigeon holes,  as should be expected from a band that reads like a "who's who" of Alternative Christian music. Mike Roe, Andy Prickett, and Derri Daugherty play guitars, Tim Chandler adds his bass skills, Ed McTaggart contributes drums, Gene Eugene is on keyboards, Burleigh Drummond on percussion, and ever-present session man Phil Madeira brings his keyboards, accordion, and lap-steel.
This album should serve as a good resume for Taylor. It may not be his best work, but it is a solid release. Maybe KMG Records will help him win a whole new generation of fans.
By James Stewart (09/12/98)