Mainstream Chagall Guevara Chagall Guevara MCA

CCM Magazine
February 1991
© 1991 by CCM Publications, Inc.
Pages 34-36

Well, it was bound to happen. You leave this many talented artists together in one place, at a time when they're getting tired of being the critics' darlings in the contemporary Christian music business (which can mean little more than modest sales by popular standards and a less than significant impact on the average record buying rocker), and they're likely to do something utterly imaginative and aggressive that demands a larger audience. On its MCA Records debut Chagall Guevara--the combined talents of Steve Taylor, Dave Perkins, Lynn Nichols, Wade Jaynes, and Mike Mead--does just that.

But let's get past the name first. Remember Marc Chagall, the famous artist who worked in mosaics and stained glass, and often spoke to and from his Jewish faith tradition? Remember Che Guevara, the political revolutionary? "We're out to be revolutionary artists" seems to be the point, and while I find the sentiment noble, I still think it's a silly name.

What isn't silly here is the music--not one "Lifeboat" in the bunch--and in my opinion that is a very good thing. Although Perkins was an artist/producer in his own right (remember The Innocence for What? Records and work with Randy Stonehill and Servant), and the same is true of Nichols (remember Phil Keaggy Band's . . . Emerging and work with Keaggy on Master and the Musician, Sunday's Child, and Find Me In These Fields), the real stepping off point for this outing is the last Myrrh release of Steve Taylor, the Perkins produced I Predict 1990. Turn up "Jim Morrison's Grave" all the way and get a hint of the energy, creative spunk, societal rage and poetic through behind Chagall Guevara. I predict this union of musicians will see 2000.

That this record is more aggressive, more intentionally obtuse, more broad and populist is an assumed given. However, this is not positive pop with only warm affirmations on the goodness of "love" to offer. Track after track bespeaks the brokenness of our world, and humanity's longing for acceptance and wholeness or, to use a theological reference, salvation. The music's raw, creative drive incarnates the liberation the songs point toward, while the songs have a melodic sensibility that Taylor never quite managed on his own. Perkins and Nichols have nailed the careless ease of dual guitar rhythms that Keith Richards and Ron Wood seemed to fashion and trademark, while Taylor's vocal range has broadened beyond the occasional Bowie-ism to a richer, more organic growl. His rendering of "Love Canal" would impress Johnny (Rotten) Lydon.

Societal ills and their impact on individuals run through "Murder in the Big House," and "Escher's Worlds" at the beginning to "I Need Somebody," "The Rub of Love" and the closing expression of community and faith, "If It All Comes True." Humans lose when they "Play God" and sell out to the "Monkey Grinder." You can "Feel the Chains" in a world where "Love is a Dead Language." And no "Candy Guru" can take away the pain in eyes the color of "Violent Blue."

Clearly, Chagall Guevara, aiming for major market success, has not made a record to satisfy the Christian radio audience, but then even when recording for Christian labels these fine musicians had trouble reining themselves into those constraints. Here, they make a truly eloquent rock record that bows to no one's expectations, beyond artist satisfaction and musical integrity. That recognized, there is plenty here for this Christian music fan to delight in, and I suspect other alternative music fans who loved Taylor and Perkins way back when will find great satisfaction in Chagall Guevara'a depth and growth. It couldn't have happened to a nicer, or more talented, bunch of guys.

Brian Q. Newcomb