Monday, January 22, 2018

The Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down

Before you raise the question, Shawn Amos is a real Reverend, having been ordained by the Universal Life Church, the same group that bestowed me with my ordination papers. Over the years, he has served music in a variety of ways: a performer, songwriter, an A&R man, and I suspect in many other capacities.
His latest album, The Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down, takes him in a couple of different musical directions, from reinterpretations of glam rock and new wave anthems to rhythm and blues, to gospel, and always with his heart firmly rooted in the blues. After he hooks you with some fun funk, he delivers a moving three-song collection that he calls Freedom Suite, and the combination of the three makes for a powerful event.
Amos supplies vocals and harmonica on the songs and he is joined by Chris “Doctor” Roberts, Michael Toles, James Saez on guitar; Leroy Hodges Jr, Hannah Dexter, Alex Al, Larry Taylor on bass; Steve Potts, Mike Smirnoff, Rod Bland, Steve Jordan on drums; Charles Hodges, Peter Adams on keys; Vikram Devasthali on trombone; and Joe Santa-Maria on baritone sax. Additional vocalists are Sharlotte Gibson, Kenya Hathaway, Harold Thomas, Robert “Tex” Wrightsil, Lester Lands, Bill Pitman, Philemon Young,   
The album starts off with the languid down home front porch sounding Moved. The spare music is provided by guitar and harp and the sweet vocals of Amos and backup singers Gibson and Hathaway. The song is full of emotion and the power of a person searching for meaning. It’s a beautiful song and raises the bar on expectations for a great album.
The next song, 2017, is more up tempo and the lyrics are pointed as it looks at what humanity is facing in the present time. Can we be better, the song asks, or is this all we can do? With Amos’ general optimism and hope for the future, there is little doubt that he feels we can find a way out of the darkness and into the light.
Amos follows up with Hold Hands, an R&B flavored morsel that again showcases his belief that we can reach across barriers and make a better world. This is a fun song, and it helps to show that Amos can cover a lot of musical ground with ease.
In a very unusual choice, Amos and company next tackle David Bowie’s The Jean Genie, originally released on his Aladdin Sane album. With its thumping bass and modulated vocals, it really stands out as a different style of song. Even with its glam rock pedigree, Amos still finds ways to infuse the song with some ass kicking funk. Blues purists might not gravitate to the song, but I loved this version, and somehow think Bowie would have as well.
The next three songs comprise a connected trilogy that Amos called Freedom Suite. The first song is the traditional number Uncle Tom’s Prayer, that sets up the full suite. Amos’ harp only blows a few notes before his powerful acapella vocals ring out. Such a beautiful number and with a message that still rings true.
The second song, Amos’ Does My Life Matter, asks a question that just about everyone has pondered at one time or another. The sound moves away from the presentation of the previous song, but keeps the spirit of it moving forward. It’s a song with a lot of punch. This is a great song.
The suite concludes with (We’ve Got To) Come Together, a song that holds out the chance that we can overcome what was before and move forward in a way that unites us as a human race and never diminishes any group. We’re all one, and we need to enhance those connections. And here, we get to do with a funky dance groove.
After that is Ain’t Gonna Name Names, a fun song with more than a little kick to it. It’s got a bit of a big band feel with the horns adding some potent ingredients to the mix. It’s one of those songs that just makes you feel good and you just might want to get up and shake a little bit.
The album closes with one of the all time great New Wave anthems, (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, And Understanding that was written by Nick Lowe and made into an international hit by Elvis Costello. What Amos has done here is not to just cover the song, but remake it into the most soulful and powerful number possible. The first time I listened to his version, I wept at its beauty. I played it for family members who were similarly moved. This one song takes this album onto a higher level and completes its beautiful message.
The Good Reverend has a unique approach to his music. He writes upbeat songs that offer a little hope in troubling times. His approach gives us songs that remind us that salvation is possible, but it comes with a responsibility to work to improve ourselves and hold out our hands to help those who need it. I, for one, find this message uplifting, and it helps me make it through those dark nights when I feel like giving up.

The Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down is a beautiful album, and one I feel that I can say without fear of contradiction, one that will end up on my Best of 2018 list at the end of the year. If any of my words has piqued your interest, be sure to check him out at http://www.shawnamos.com/, and go ahead and preorder the album. 

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