4 Guys With Hearts of Fire with a Cutting Edge in Perfect Time...By Philip Mayabb
As we continue our celebration of classic Christian rock this month, our second stop takes us to the west coast, to enjoy one of the best and most interesting recordings by one of the genre's best and most interesting artists. This week, we're returning to 1982, to listen to Cutting Edge by the Sweet Comfort Band.
Of course, most everybody is familiar with the SCB story. Four guys, with a burning love for Christ, and an equally burning desire to win the world for Him. The four members came to the table with a very wide range of musical tastes...keyboardist and lead vocalist Bryan Duncan was the pop fan of the group. Guitarist and vocalist Randy Thomas came from a musical background that embraced a love for jazz. Bassist Kevin Thomson was the rock aficionado of the band, while his brother, drummer and vocalist Rick Thomson was into vocal groups. Of course, all these influences were front and center on the first three Sweet Comfort Band albums, however Bryan recently explained to me that the guys were not that pleased with the results of their third album, 1979's Hold On Tight, partially because the diversity in the styles presented on the album made it difficult to market and promote. That disappointment ultimately led to three major changes in the band's modus operandi...first, the decision was made to develop an official band logo (ala Chicago) and secondly, not put the band member's faces on the album covers anymore. And third, since members of the band had in recent years taken a liking to heavier, guitar bands such as Kansas and Toto, they decided to add some muscle to the classic Sweet Comfort sound, making it more progressive and heavier.
The transition began with 1981's all time classic Hearts Of Fire, which is still regarded by some to be the band's best effort of all time, and continued through Cutting Edge, as well as 1984's farewell album Perfect Timing. Previously the band had brought in Jack Joseph Puig to engineer and mix Hearts Of Fire, and were so impressed with his work, that he was brought back for this album, but this time as a producer. Of course, history tells that Puig is now a music industry legend, and according to the partial credits listed on allmusic.com, he has worked with artists ranging from Amy Grant and Russ Taff to Green Day, Bette Midler, and The Black Crowes to name just a few. Oddly enough, the site does not list the two Sweet Comfort Band LPs he worked on, which is sad because Cutting Edge was his first credit as a producer. He was described to me as a high energy producer, with a fantastic ear for arranging in the studio, as well as possessing an ability to transform ordinary sounds into strange sounding musical tones. Bryan also told me that Puig had a way of creating his own descriptive dialogue, keeping things entertaining for the guys as they recorded the album.
Bryan also disclosed to me that Cutting Edge was a very personal recording for the band, who was beginning to see changes for some of the members...Bryan himself was beginning to feel the desire to leave the band, and get out of the music industry itself. In an effort to save time in the studio, as well as bring in an experienced set of fingers and ears to the recording process, he relinquished some of the keyboard duties to the very capable hands of studio ace John Andrew Schreiner, with whom he still enjoys a long lasting friendship with today. Other members of the band were also experiencing bumps in the road of life as well, and some of those struggles were diagrammed in the various lyrics of the songs. For example, the album's lead off track Runnin' To Win conveys the idea that road of being successful long term in a band was more difficult than it seemed. Other songs on the album were also written from personal struggles and hardships as well, making it a very personal chronicle of where the Sweet Comfort Band was standing at the time.
As for the songs themselves, they combined to create a setlist of memorable tunes that still sound sweet (pardon the pun) to the ears today. The heavier sound of the band was prominent on tracks like Runnin' To Win, What Have You Got, Valerie (still a classic), and possibly the heaviest SCB song of all time, Armed And Ready, however there were also country influences (Breakdown Love), pop (Live It, What Did It Mean), and fantastic power ballads (Haven't Seen You, Falling In Love With You, and Changed Hearts) included on this album. It was released at a time when Christian rock was just starting to become more organized and visible to most fans, and as this album proves, these four guys from the Golden State knew exactly how to do it right. Despite all of the curves that life might have been throwing them at the time, the Sweet Comfort Band came of age on this recording, transforming themselves into a seriously legitimate hard rocking unit, that could go toe to toe with the best of them. This album is truly one for the ages...so we invite you to listen to it with us, and enjoy life on the Cutting Edge.
1. Runnin' To Win
2. What Have You Got?
3. Falling In Love With You
4. Haven't Seen You
5. Breakdown Love
7. Changed Hearts
8. Live It
9. What Did It Mean?
10, Armed And Ready
And a personal note...thank you to Bryan Duncan for sharing memories and thoughts about the album with us, you're still the man!
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