Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Album Review: Daniel Amos - Dig Here, Said The Angel

You may be wondering why I'm writing an album review on a photography Blog. Part of the reason is that I contributed to the album's artwork. Another reason is that I love music.

I found a haystack in a needle
I caught an angel in a lie
I saw a hypocrite in heaven
Remove a log from both his eyes
I saw an anvil float on water
Water running up a hill 

Dig Here, Said The Angel by Daniel Amos is fascinating, lyrically and musically. This band's debut record was released in 1976, and each of their 14 full-length rock albums sound different from the others--no two sound alike. A big reason for this is that they are often on the cutting-edge of music. Their influence goes far beyond their own fan-base. This new album is both cutting-edge and classic at the same time, and it certainly will influence the music made by others.

I found my masterpiece in a discount bin
I pound against the wall of my aging skin

Terry Scott Taylor is the band's singer, songwriter, guitarist and overall genius. Ed McTaggart provides the drums and percussion that drive and shake the album. Jerry Chamberlain and Greg Flesch are both on guitars for the first time since the album Songs of the Heart released in 1995. The amazing Tim Chandler is the bassist. And Rob Watson is on keyboards for the first time since the album Motorcycle released in 1993. There are a bunch of other instruments on the album, as well, with some played by band members and some outsourced.

“Dig here,” said the angel
I asked “My heart? Or my grave?”
“Maybe both,” said the angel, “things can go either way.”

I was going to give a song-by-song synopsis of Dig Here, Said The Angel, but decided that was not the best approach. The album is a whole. The 11 songs are all a part of a greater vision, and they work together--lyrically and musically. There is nothing stand-alone here.

You could go old-school on me and not spare the lash
You could bash, smash me baby, throw me out with the trash

The best way that I've thought of to describe the album is that it is a roller coaster. There are slow rises, fast falls, dips, turns, loops and surprises, and each of those work together to give a thrill ride. When you are done with the ride you want to get back in line to ride again.

But I’m still the problem
And not some other person, place or thing
So to hell with my excuses
I’ve got no one else to blame

Dig Here, Said The Angel is just like that. But with sound. And that sound is both diverse and wonderful. There are elements of rock and roll from the 1960's through today and even tomorrow all mixed together. Yet nothing seems out of place. To get such diverse sounds to fit together like they were always meant to fit together is the genius of the band.

I sell records world wide now that I've died

There is so much going on musically on this album. There are deep layers of sound. It's impossible to pick up on it all the first time through. It takes several listens to find the surprises hidden in the tracks.

We were hoping for a few quick fixes
But we found ourselves still down in the hole

And there are plenty of surprises on Dig Here, Said The Angel. I hear flute, horns, xylophone, violin, cello, and who knows what else scattered through the recordings. It's also surprising what the band does with "ordinary" instruments, creating unique electric soundscapes.
I closed my eyes and ran like the wind
I had all my hair and perfect skin
I had the world on a string and what I hoped would be
A happy ending for me, oh no
The album is just as interesting lyrically as it is musically. Inspired by the writings of Saint John of the Cross, Dig Here, Said The Angel flips conventional wisdom upside-down. What we discover is that our failures, shortcomings, heartaches and disappointments are in part what brings us to hope, love, forgiveness and fulfillment. The opposite is often true, as well.
So don't send me rain if I bloom in drought
No don't send me certainty
If somehow it's best for me to doubt
You could call this a concept album, because each song is like a chapter in a novel. There is a message in the music--a deep message that causes one to think. It is a single message told through 11 songs.
I opened the wrong door
Got somewhat famous for
Getting all my wires crossed
I nod to give the impression
I’m clearly hearing the directions
Can’t admit when I get lost
What I can tell you is that Dig Here, Said The Angel is unlike any album that I've ever heard. It is indeed a thrill ride for my ears and mind. It will be one of my favorite records for many years to come. I think that you would like it, too.
Baby don’t isolate them, no
Baby, don’t castigate them, no
Baby, don’t eradicate them, no
The angels will separate them, so
In the meantime let it go
Daniel Amos' new album, Dig Here, Said The Angel, is not actually available yet. I received an advanced copy. I imagine it will be available for purchase soon, so keep a close eye out for it

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