I was pretty much won over by this early 90’s band on their first CD Door Into Summer in which they covered both the Beatles and the Monkees. They even performed the Monkees Theme in their live shows. As a Monkees fan, if you cover the Monkees? It increases your chances of making the cut for Christian Music That Doesn’t Suck.
Yes, I am serious. I am a Monkees fan. I own every CD by the band except Pool It. I have my limits.
Anyways, in 1989, threesome Jacob’s Trouble released Door Into Summer. In one of those nice moments where sounding “behind the times” was intentional, Jacob’s Trouble was an alternative rock band with the jangly 60’s guitar influence. Comprised of Jerry Davison, Mark Blackburn and Steve Atwell, their debut contained a number of solid tracks produced by Terry Scott Taylor of Daniel Amos fame.
Kicking off with the upbeat Wind and Wave, a Beach Boy-ish tune about having doubts about God, JT kicked off with a bang. Their debut mostly was songs of Praise (Psalm 151 & All For You) as well as some songs longing for a “more perfect world.” This was not an uncommon sentiment for Christian music, of course and both the U2 influenced Waiting for the Son and the somewhat haunting and dreamy Awfully Familiar express this notion quite well. Awfully Familiar also veers into social commentary (noting that the culture is “like the days of Noah” and hinting these are the final days) as does the Church of Do What You Want Do, casting a critical eye on Church Authority or lack there of. It’s probably the closest the band comes to a judgmental vibe, but it is a fun song.
The band continued with Terry for a second CD, entitled Knock, Breathe, Shine. It full of jangly pop goodness. The band opens with a fairly heartfelt tune lamenting a friend’s loss of faith in Look At You Now. This is a common theme, and while I believe the band’s sincerity, it always comes across as rather disingenuous when we reduce someone’s reasons to “faith is out of fashion”. I am still waiting for the “I am sad you lost your faith, but I know you did for deeper reasons than wanting to be popular” song. We tend to rely on very shallow defenses when people walk away from the Christian faith.
A lot of the album takes a somewhat child-like wonder approach to faith, which is not a slam on the band. They do it with intelligence and poetry in a way many bands failed at. With songs like Is It True, Little Red Words and There Goes My Heart again, they bring a certain wonderment and romance to faith that can often be lacking in Christian music. Mostly full of good pop tunes, this was a pretty strong sophomore outing for the band. They did have some troubles, the studio, for some reason balked at including a Eric Clapton cover (Instead the band recorded Dylan’s I Believe In You) and Terry Taylor didn’t care for a song called about sex. Terry felt the original tune was to “right wing sloganeering.” And he had a point (which the band also conceded). But the end result is a bit of cacophony called About Sex part two and it is just someone reciting statics over a bed of music. But it’s the closer that makes the album… These Thousand Hills is just… incredible. It works on all levels.
For their third release, the band switched things up with producing, being joined by the late Mark Heard. They did pay tribute to Terry Taylor by including a cover of Daniel Amos’ Walls of Doubt. …Let the Truth Run Wild stuck squarely into a 60’s influenced formula- to the extent that I have had people wonder if they were some forgotten act. This is especially evidence on country twang songs like Days That Passed Me by or Beatles/Monkees like tracks such as Love Me Today. The songs are most definitely fused with a sense of fun and infectiously upbeat. The other big change the album had was he introduction of two new members, allowing for a richer band sound-especially live. Both Ron Cochran (who took over drums) and Keith Johnston (guitarist) freed Jerry Davison from the drum kit and allowed him to simply take the lead singer role. The album has several strong rock numbers (Just Like You and Love Is the Reason We Live). They did have one song forced on the CD. I Hope to See You There is not written by the band, and it was to make sure there was some more “blatant Jesus material”. The song sticks out like a sore thumb, sounding like a bad Petra song. This is very ironic, considering they have a nice cover on the CD of a 1939 song called I’d rather Have Jesus. As an aside, I really appreciated the obvious Monkees homage on the cover.
There was some issues with the musical direction the band started taking as they geared up for a fourth album and Mark Blackburn opted to leave the band. What we got was the most 90’s sounding album possible. The self titled album is energetic and fun, but it is, funny enough, the most dated of their releases. Whether it is the industrial tinged Way of the Cross or the alt pop of House of Love… this album is soaking in the nineties. This is not to say there is not some really great tracks. There is the late eighties U2 clone Better Days and the classic sixties meets alternative Tears of an Angel. And really, the songs are a lot of fun. But alas, the album just feels out of place.
After touring for the fourth release, the band called it quits. The label released a compilation of demos called Diggin’ Up Bones, which was a re-release of their indie cassette the Songbird Sessions with some demos from the fourth album included.
Of most interest for the disc was the original About Sex. Yeah, it was sloganeering (There is a line that says, “It’s like this, George… You gotta have faith, faith, faith” with the guitar riff from George Michael’s Faith-which was pretty big at that time). It is definitely a sloganeering song that veers in Moral Majority territory…it is still more enjoyable than what made it on to Knock Breathe Shine.
If Superman Got Saved tackled the rather popular notion that celebrities give Christianity certain credibility. If only George Clooney got saved, people would have to accept that Jesus is the way! No matter how many times this is proven false (Bob Dylan, Alice Cooper, that guy from Korn) every time a celebrity is “outed” as a Christian? You would think this is some “win” that will “change everything.” You know what I have never heard a Christian say? “You know, Tom Cruise is a Scientologist… it MUST be true.” Brad Pitt converting won’t suddenly make Christianity “legit”.
This is fun little collection that leans heavily towards the the first two albums, completely ignoring …Let the Truth Run Wild. Later, the band got back together for one song, Step by Step-a return to the 60’s pop influenced music- to say good bye, I guess. It was included on a retrospective that included material from all five previous releases. It also included some live performances.
I have fond memories of this band, they put on great shows (I saw them at least twice). They had a fun and honest way of presenting their faith, plenty of humor as well. Davison told a great story about when God gave him his dream… seeing the Monkees on TV. This was a band that did not take themselves to seriously, and yet, they managed to present a serious idea about life choices.
“If God can speak to a man through a Donkey…he’s gonna speak to five guys through four Monkees.”
Hey, Hey, this is a Christian band that did not suck. And they totally rocked the mullet.