Petra’s albums: #20 – Petra

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.

Petra (1974, Myrrh)

Lineup: Bob Hartman (guitar, banjo, vocals), Greg Hough (guitar, mandolin, vocals), Bill Glover (drums), John DeGroff (bass)

This self-titled initial offering came a couple of years after the formation of the band, and as you listen to it you will quickly realize that Petra, given their total history, cannot be just put into a box of “rock band,” for their musical style has really run the gamut over the course of their history. Several of the songs on this album have a country/bluegrass feel to them. But while the style of this album might not appeal to some, this is a solid album with some good songs.

This album gets going with “Walkin’ In the Light” which carries with it a quintessential early ’70s rock sound. The lyrics are a reflection of the Jesus Movement that came on the heels of the hippie movement of the late ’60s and early ’70s: “Walkin’ in the light / every day and night / Livin’ in the Spirit / is really out of sight.” It reflects the joy and purpose of a new believer.

“Mountains and Valleys” is a ballad about how the Lord is with you even when you are in low times. “Lucas McGraw” is kind of a fun little country rock tune sung in the third person about a man who is now living a changed life because of Christ. “Wake Up” is a soft rock tune directed at those who are deceiving themselves by the life they are living. “Backslidin’ Blues” is, appropriately, a bluesy tune and written like a prayer to God, asking “What can I do to get back to You?”

“Get Back to the Bible” is a funky rock tune addressing the insufficiency of the some of the things of that era: “‘Hare Krishna’ may be fun to sing / But it ain’t gonna get you to heaven.” The way “Gonna Fly Away” is sung actually reminds me of The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” but maybe that’s just me. It’s a song about the hope of what’s to come for the believer.

“I’m Not Ashamed” is about our denial of self-sufficiency and necessity to rely of Christ for our satisfaction. “Storm Comin'” is about knowing the time of the Lord’s return is near. Finally, “Parting Thought” has a Crosby, Stills, & Nash vibe to it and simply says the following: “Here’s a song sung with you in mind / Maybe it will make you think about Him one more time / And if you can, please try to understand / Jesus is yours for the asking.” Essentially, it’s an invitation.

Chances are if you are reading this you are a Petra fan, but I’m willing to guess that chances are equal that you have never heard this album. I’m not saying it will be your favorite, but it’s not bad… not bad at all. If there’s one blaring weakness I would say it is the vocals. That would change in later years. The sound is also rougher… uneven… if that makes any sense. Petra would get better, and in some cases much better, but started off very well.

Petra’s albums: #21 – Double Take

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.

Double Take (2000, Word Records)

Lineup: John Schlitt (lead vocals), Pete Orta (lead guitars), Trent Thompson (keyboards), Lonnie Chapin (bass), Louie Weaver (drums)

I remember being delighted when I happened upon this album in a store twelve years ago. I hadn’t been paying much attention to when new albums were coming out in those days, not even for my favorite band of all time — yes, Petra.

When I saw that the playlist was a lot of their old stuff, plus a couple of new songs, I was intrigued. Re-mixes of some of my very favorite songs of all time? Count me in! So it was with great excitement that I slid the CD into the CD player.

I was quickly and utterly disappointed. The acoustic re-mixes left a lot to be desired, in my opinion, and did a disservice to the originals, bring little to nothing new to the table that could be considered good. And so I rarely listened to the CD since then.

But with me doing this list it became necessary to re-evaluate the album using ears that are a little bit more mature. I wouldn’t say I was looking forward to it, but I was interested to see whether or not my opinion on Double Take would be different than that initial listen.

The verdict? The disappointment remains. For its context and purpose it stands out to me as the only Petra album I would classify as “bad.” Every great band is entitled to one, or two, maybe even three clunkers depending on how long they stay at it. Well, this is Petra’s one big clunker, in my opinion. As I listened to every song on this album, in order, again, I was trying to come up with one word to sum up my take on Double Take. I know the word I eventually settled on is probably patently unfair, as I know there are others who appreciate this album more than I do, and I know those who put it together probably are proud of it, but to me this album, in comparison to everything else Petra, just seems… soulless.

Let me give you just quick takes on each track…

  1. “Judas’ Kiss” – The original is a guitary, sad song. This is a bluesy, folksy, yet mellow number. It’s interesting to hear John Schlitt’s vocals on this one, but the arrangement of the original is to be preferred over this one, although the strings are a nice surprise.
  2. “The Coloring Song” – I see this getting repetitive very quickly. Schlitt’s vocals are this one are subdued at best. They chose a lower range of notes and it detracts from the power of the lyrics in the original.
  3. “Dance” – This is the first track where I actually start to get a little mad, maybe because the original “Dance” ranks as one of my all timers. An example of a song that didn’t need changing, and certainly didn’t need mellowing. It sounds like a poor attempt to turn it into a single for positive, encouraging Christian pop radio. Fail.
  4. “Beyond Belief” – The original of this one is the title track over what is perhaps Petra’s most beloved album, but right from the start on this re-mix you know it shouldn’t have been toyed with. It feels like little effort was put into this.
  5. “The Longing” – This is one of the two new track on this album, with lyrics by PFR’s Joel Hanson, and it is actually my favorite song on Double Take. It definitely carries on the softer, acoustic feel of the album, but doesn’t carry the baggage of having an original to compare it with. It’s a great little song about how the human heart lacks and desires fulfillment, the satisfaction for which can only be found in Jesus Christ.
  6. “He Came, He Saw” – This is a song that expresses the victory all believers have because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The original, on the This Means War! album, is hard and emphatic. This version is soft, mellow, and that just doesn’t work at all for this song. As with all of the re-mixes, the original is hard to get out of your mind, but these lyrics demand a crispness in both their delivery and the accompanying music. You get neither here, and it just falls flat.
  7. “Beat the System” – Another example of a song needing crispness but not getting it in this re-mix.
  8. “This Means War” – In my opinion, probably the biggest failure on the album. Much of the same problems of “He Came, He Saw.” This is a song painting a picture of a dramatic spiritual battle. The title itself, “This means war!” (emphasis mine) demand power. You don’t get this, but instead a long drawn out singing of “Waaarrrrrr!”
  9. “Breathe In” – Lyrics to this one were from Pete Orta, and it’s another good original, even the style isn’t preferred.
  10. “Creed” – At this point it feels like “wash, rinse, repeat” on the comments, but yet another ultra-mellowed version that just doesn’t work.
  11. “Praying Man” – An underrated favorite of mine, the original at least. This one, though, might be the best of the re-mixes, even if they leave out some of the lyrics (which is a drawback).
  12. “Just Reach Out” – This is the other nominee for best re-mix. The original, of course, was rather subdued. I still prefer the original, but the harmonies in this mix are beautiful.

Now, reading all of this you probably think I’m a pretty bad “big” fan of Petra. I understand that. Writing this post I feel a little like I’m “killing my old man” (pardon the pun). The fact is I love Petra, but this particular album does a pretty poor job of re-imagining some of the classics that it is hard to listen to all the way through. The fact of that matter is that by this time Petra was in a Jimmy Carter-like malaise, and they would only release two more albums prior to Farewell and now Classic Petra. Better times were ahead, but most of the great times were past. Double Take has some positives, but for me they are too few and far between. Maybe this isn’t a “bad” album like I wrote earlier, but it does fail on many levels, which is why it is at the bottom of this list.

40 Years: In appreciation of Petra

It’s hard to believe that in some form or fashion Petra has, this year, been around for forty years. They are my favorite band of all time. When I first really started paying attention to music I was just getting into seventh grade and my attention was soon directed to Christian rock, and at that point Petra was the undisputed giant in Christian rock. Little did I know at that time they’d been around for 16 years.

Though the “official” Petra retired a few years ago with the live Farewell album, today they still remain in the form of John Schlitt’s solo albums and, of course, the Classic Petra lineup of the early ’80s touring and now working on a second album.

In celebration of Petra entering it’s fifth decade of ministry, what I plan to do here over the next several weeks and months is review their albums, counting down from least best to best. Live albums will not be considered, nor will simple compilation albums, as StarSong was prone to release after Petra left the label in the late ’80s. Double Take will be considered since it was a reinvention of previous songs and included two new tracks. Likewise, Back to the Rock is considered because it is also, in a sense, a reinvention and also included two new tracks.

So the list of albums being considered will be:

  • Petra
  • Come and Join Us
  • Washes Whiter Than
  • Never Say Die
  • More Power to Ya
  • Not of This World
  • Beat the System
  • Back to the Street
  • This Means War!
  • On Fire!
  • Petra Praise: The Rock Cries Out
  • Beyond Belief
  • Unseen Power
  • Wake Up Call
  • No Doubt
  • Petra Praise 2: We Need Jesus
  • God Fixation
  • Double Take
  • Revival
  • Jekyll & Hyde
  • Back to the Rock

The first album appreciation is on its way. I hope you enjoy it, and in the meantime, rock out to Petra to the glory of God!