Dig Here Said the Angel

I came along at the perfect time to become a Daniel Amos fan. In the 1970s, DA, part of the first, experimental wave of contemporary Christian music, had a country sound, but in 1978 the group recorded “Horrendous Disc,” a Beatles-influenced and yet vital and original concept album. If it had actually been released in 1978, fans believe, it might well have had crossover success. But a dispute between the band and Larry Norman, the CCM artist who founded their record label, held up release of “Horrendous Disc” until 1981, at virtually the same time as “Alarma!”, the band’s first album for its new label.

In spring 1981, I was completing the spring semester of my freshman year at what I often call Famous Televangelist University. My experience at “FTU” was in many ways a good one. I grew spiritually in a Christian-college environment and I still have good friends from those days. But I was already, even as a freshman, starting to recognize the importance of thinking for one’s self and not being caught up in the herd mentality. One of my dorm directors once said in a devotion that, in some ways, Christian college can be one of the hardest places to actually be a Christian, because it’s so easy to coast along saying and doing all the right things without any real reason for them.

I was already suspicious of Famous Televangelist Jr., who impressed me as kind of smarmy, but it would be another year or two before I really started to admit that Famous Televangelist Sr. was guilty of many of the same things I already didn’t like about some of the other TV preachers. A year or two after I graduated, Famous Televangelist pronounced that God had commanded him to raise X amount of money, and if he didn’t do so, God would consider his work finished and “call him home.” That was a level of either fraud or self-delusion that I could no longer countenance.

Anyway, a double-dip of Daniel Amos, with songwriter/frontman Terry Scott Taylor’s intelligence, satirical wit, and fearlessness, was just the lifeline I needed in the spring of 1981. I have been a fan of DA, of Terry’s solo albums, and of the Swirling Eddies (another band which overlaps heavily with DA) ever since. I usually list them along with Randy Stonehill as my favorite musical artists. Terry’s also involved with a third band, the Lost Dogs.

Two years ago, after not having toured in years, DA came to Smyrna – and I couldn’t go, because I was in camp at Mountain T.O.P. that week.

Anyway, DA is in the process of releasing a new album, “Dig Here Said The Angel.” It was launched with a Kickstarter campaign. I’m embarrassed to say, after having proclaimed my adoration for DA, that I didn’t get in during the official campaign. Money was tight. But, fortunately, even after the official Kickstarter ended, the band allowed procrastinators to contribute at comparable levels and get the same benefits. So, this week, I got my official e-mail with a download link to an advance copy of “Dig Here.”

Terry’s voice and songwriting style are distinctive, and it would be easy for the band to release something that sounded like a rehash of previous work. Thankfully, they always manage to bring a fresh approach. “Love, Grace and Mercy,” despite the heaviness of its lyrics, has an infectious sound, with little bits of pop creeping in, and “The Sun Shines on Everyone”  is a beautiful, Brian Wilson-influenced pop anthem which ends the album on a happy note. Terry’s subversive, poetic, sometimes wickedly-funny lyrics (he once wrote a song about hypocrisy, and Christian colleges, entitled “Hide The Beer, The Pastor’s Here”) make each new song a wonder to listen to.

DA once included a quote from William Blake on an album jacket about “that which is explicit to the idiot is not worth my care,” and it’s sometimes dangerous to presume too much about where Terry is going with a particular lyric; what I’m reading into it may not be at all what he intended.

But I think there’s a clear message of struggle, faith and delayed gratification in this album, and it may not be too presumptious to note that Terry went through some health problems a few years back, and even turned to fans for help (he had no medical insurance). Songs like “The Uses of Adversity,” “Jesus Wept” and the title track acknowledge the pain and struggle of earthly life and our impatience for relief.

Terry wrote all of the songs on the album except “Waking Up Under Water,” which he co-wrote with bandmate (and my Facebook friend!) Jerry Chamberlain.

Anyway, I could not be more pleased with the album, and it’s a wonderful addition to my playlists.