Though I don’t have ‘red, white and blue’ for the Fourth of July weekend, I do have something ‘Crimson and Blue’ instead.
For Phil Keaggy fans, this was a must-have album when it was released a little more than 25 years ago, and probably the one with the most promotional push behind it.
Not only did it have the typical ads, interviews and reviews in the magazines, but it was also accompanied by the Revelator E.P. with radio mixes, alternate takes and whatnot; plus the secular-market release titled, Blue, which had its own alternate mixes, alternate tracks and an alternate track listing.
But Crimson and Blue was the official release, and we look at that today–the third of three retro classic rock -style albums Phil released on the Myrrh label during the late 80s and early 90s. We first looked at the Sunday’s Child album–his first in this series–back in March. During the three albums of this period, Phil partnered with longtime bandmate Lynn Nichols as his producer.
Though they were all retro, the sound of each–Sunday’s Child, Find Me in the Fields, and Crimson and Blue–did not mimic each other, but had their own sound. The first, as reviewed here earlier, had a more sixties Beatle-esque vibe, while the following two took a little more 70s kind of flair.
Crimson and Blue is kind of McCartney meets Clapton, and is reminiscent of the jam-bands (such as Keaggy’s own Glass Harp) of the early 70s, especially with the extended wailing guitar solos for “John the Revelator” and “Doin’ Nothing.” This still has his signature McCartney vocal style, and harkens back to the 60s with the Beatley “Love Divine” (a la “All My Loving”).
It’s hard to pick through highlights of this album, because each song is just about as good as the other. But the few that stand out includes the aforementioned “Revelator,” “Doin’ Nothing” and “Love Divine” as well as the album opener, “Shouts of Joy,” the Phil Madeira-penned radio single, “Everywhere I Look,” and the heartfelt Van Morrison cover, “When Will I Ever Learn to Live in God.”
Though Phil was never too showy with his guitar prowess on his vocal albums, his nine fingers do dance around the fretboard quite a bit on this one–but never to outdo the whole of the song. For instance, the album’s closer “Nothing But the Blood” has some fine guitar panache, but it’s balanced out well enough so the hymn’s heartfelt message takes priority.
Though the Revelator E.P. was a good companion piece for this project, and in my opinion had the better versions of “John the Revelator” (strat mix and radio edit), I felt Blue to be even better than the Crimson and Blue album as a whole. It was pared down, had a better track listing, and an impressive version of Badfinger’s classic, “Baby Blue,” which is not on the Crimson and Blue album.
I must admit, I found Crimson and Blue only slightly better than average when it first came out. But today, I find it’s almost a perfect album. Perhaps these ears are more attuned to the classic rock/bluesy style of this album more now than during the early 90s when the arena rock stylings of Petra, Whiteheart and DeGarmo & Key dominated the charts. Case in point (as Rod Serling would say) is the artsy three-and-a-half minute instrumental closing to “Stone Eyes” (exactly half of the song) which I thought was rather dull and monotonous 25 years ago, but I now appreciate and find as a creative highlight to the album.
Unlike the arena rock of the time, Crimson and Blue does not seem the least bit out of style–in fact there’s just something about the simplicity of the 70s classic rock sound that makes C&R and others like it timeless, and in cases such as this, perhaps even better with age.