Introductory Note: In appreciation of Petra’s fortieth year in music and ministry, I am ranking their albums from least best to greatest. You can read my opening post here.
Wake-Up Call (1993, Word)
Lineup: John Schlitt (lead vocals), Bob Hartman (guitar), John Lawry (keyboards), Ronny Cates (bass), Louie Weaver (drums)
As Def Leppard and Bon Jovi in the secular rock world were giving way to Nirvana, Petra was approaching an era of change after yet another successful album in Unseen Power. John and Dino Elefante had left their stamp on each album of the John Schlitt era as producers, but a change was coming in the person of Brown Bannister, who had produced successful albums for many CCM artists.
The result was ten tracks gathered together to make a great, but underappreciated album (yet one that won Petra a Grammy). There is a mixture of fantastic rock tunes, “Midnight Oil,” “Praying Man,” and “Sleeping Giant,” and wonderful ballads like “He’s Been In My Shoes,” “Marks of the Cross,” and “Just Reach Out.”
Overall, the sound represents a continued slight softening, something seen in each album since On Fire! But there is still plenty of rock to go around, and the result is a delight to the ears and the soul.
“Midnight Oil” is the opening track and it’s a classic Petra rocker, with lyrics playing off the parable of the ten virgins in Matthew 25, pointing the believer to live fervently and obediently in faith as the day of the return of Jesus Christ fast approaches.
“Good News” has kind of a Southern vibe and features a harmonica(!), and essentially it’s a song contrasting all of the bad news we get on the news with the good news we have to take to the world. Next, I haven’t yet mentioned “Strong Convictions,” but lyrically it might be my favorite song on the entire album, with a call to live an uncompromising life bound to the word of God instead of capitulating to the world system:
Secular and sacred blur
Without even raising a flag
When so many masters call
Is it the tail or the dog that will wag?
With some among us weak at the knees
And many others who do as they please
There still remains a witness
The few who will stand and say
I’ve got strong convictions ’bout the way that I live
I’ve got no concessions that I’m willing to give
Strong convictions that are worth living by
Strong convictions ’till the day I die
“He’s Been In My Shoes” is an underappreciated ballad reflecting on the priestly work of Christ on our behalf described in Hebrews. Ultimately the lyrics point us to Christ who was a man like us but blameless. We must put our hands in His.
“Praying Man” is my favorite overall track on this album when you combine music and lyrics. Written by John Lawry’s, it’s his keyboards which, coupled with Louie’s drums, provide a memorable introThe song ends up being a rousing call to recognize and utilize the power of prayer with great vocals and memorable hooks.
“Underneath the Blood” is probably the hardest song on the album with Hartman’s lyrics but music by bassist Ronny Cates. “Sleeping Giant” is kind of the title track, even though it’s not named for the album. “Believer In Deed” is a reflective ballad written from the first person by someone desirous of a life, a legacy, which people will say “He was a believer in deed.” Someone who didn’t just talk the talk, but walked the walk. But that all Christians would live in such a way.
“Marks of the Cross” is about doing Christianity and being willing to suffer as Jesus did on the tree. And finally, the album ends with a third consecutive ballad, and probably the best known from the album, “Just Reach Out,” calling the listener to call on God no matter what the circumstance: “It don’t matter who you are or where you’ve been. Just reach out, and He’ll reach in. You say you’ve walked ten thousand steps away. But don’t you know that it’s only one step back. Because the One who listens when you pray is the One who’s there beside you and He’ll never walk away.” Powerful stuff, and a fitting close to a powerful album.
To be sure, this would definitely mark the end of an era for Petra, as Bob Hartman quit touring, John Lawry stepped away from the band, and an infusion of younger members began to alter the sound. This was, for all intents and purposes, the end of Petra’s second golden era, but a great way to go out.