Petra’s albums: #2 – More Power To Ya

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. [Now, it should be noted that Petra’s fortieth year was in 2012, when I started this series. Better late than never in winding down to the end.]

More Power To Ya (1982, StarSong)

Lineup: Greg X Volz (lead vocals), Bob Hartman (guitars), Mark Kelly (bass), John Slick (keyboards), Louie Weaver (drums)

If there are two Petras — the first with Greg X Volz on vocals, the second with John Schlitt — then More Power To Ya is widely considered the pinnacle of the Volz era, the opener in a trio of great studio albums which vaulted Petra to the top of Christian pop/rock acts in the 1980s. You get plenty of guitar and drums on the album, of course, but the use of keyboards and modern synthesizers is elevated, creating a warmer overall sound. Continue reading “Petra’s albums: #2 – More Power To Ya”

Petra’s albums: #3 – Beyond Belief

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. [Now, it should be noted that Petra’s fortieth year was in 2012, when I started this series. Better late than never in winding down to the end.]

Beyond Belief (1990, Dayspring)

Lineup: John Schlitt (lead vocals), Bob Hartman (guitars), Ronny Cates (bass), John Lawry (keyboards), Louie Weaver (drums)

This album is considered by many to be the best in Petra history, or at least the best of the John Schlitt era. It certainly marked the peak in popularity for Petra during the Schlitt years. It was Petra’s best-selling album, and for good reason. Beyond Belief hits on pretty much all cylinders, providing from start to finish a slickly produced, pleasing to the ears, and lyrically challenging ten songs which made it hard not to rank higher. Continue reading “Petra’s albums: #3 – Beyond Belief”

Petra’s albums: #4 – On Fire!

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. [And I meant to conclude this series in 2012, but since Petra just released a 40th anniversary CD this year, I guess this qualifies, too.]

On Fire! (1988, StarSong)

Lineup: John Schlitt (lead vocals), Bob Hartman (guitars), Ronny Cates (bass), John Lawry (keyboards), Louie Weaver (drums)

Having begun to hit their stride with John Schlitt with the previous year’s This Means War!, this album, On Fire!, is considered by many Petra fans the apex of the band’s history, and I can see why. The album begins with three consecutive hard rockers the leave the ears ringing and the mouth curved upward. This was also the first album for new bassist Ronny Cates, completing what I believe to be Petra’s best all-around lineup. Continue reading “Petra’s albums: #4 – On Fire!”

Petra’s albums: #7 – Not Of This World

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.

Not of This World (1983, StarSong)

Lineup: Greg X. Volz (lead vocals), Bob Hartman (guitars), Mark Kelly (bass), John Slick (keyboards), Louie Weaver (drums)

Following up on the success of 1982’s More Power To Ya, Petra came back a year later with Not Of This World, the middle album of a trilogy marking the apex of the Greg X. Volz era, and an album contains three of Petra’s greatest and most enduring songs.

The introduction of synthesizers into the Petra sound start right from the beginning, with “Visions” instrumental pieces which bookend the album, transitioning nicely into the first song and out of the last.

And that first song, oh boy, is a ballad, yes, but a passionate call for believers to realize their identity in Christ in relation to their place in this world. It’s a song in the indicative, and it’s the title track. The lyrics by Bob Hartman are powerful: “We are pilgrims in a strange land / We are so far from our homeland / With each passing day it seems so clear / This world will never want us here / We’re not welcome in this world of wrong / We are foreigners who don’t belong // We are strangers, we are aliens / We are not of this world.” But that I, and all Christians, especially in America, would realize this important truth on a daily basis and live as though it is so. Continue reading “Petra’s albums: #7 – Not Of This World”

Petra’s albums: #12 – No Doubt

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.

No Doubt (1995, Word)

Lineup: John Schlitt (lead vocals), David Lichens (guitar), Ronny Cates (bass), Jim Cooper (keyboards), Louie Weaver (drums)

This was the beginning of a new era for Petra, one which began, in my opinion, with promise, but was very short lived. Bob Hartman stopped touring and his work with Petra was behind the scenes, and legendary keyboardist John Lawry left the band after over a decade with them. By the time their preceding album – Wake-Up Call – was released and had its run, the music scene had changed dramatically. The arena rock sound that had permeated their successful run of previous albums had given way in the culture to a more alternative sound. In this album we see signs of that, with lower mixed drums and a sometimes grungy guitar. The Elefante brothers were back producing after Brown Bannister produced the previous album. The result in the end is a mixed bag. Continue reading “Petra’s albums: #12 – No Doubt”

Petra’s albums: #13 – Never Say Die

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.

Never Say Die (1981, StarSong)

Lineup: Greg X. Volz (lead vocals), Bob Hartman (guitars), Mark Kelly (bass), John Slick (keyboards

This fourth album from Petra is really the first to capture what we know as the Greg X. Volz era Petra sound, with new producer in Jonathan David Brown. It’s also the first of Petra’s albums to feature a song to reach number one on the Christian charts. It is a transitional album of sorts, as Petra was departing the soft sound we’d heard on Washes Whiter Than for a little more rock, but not as much rock as we’d later hear.

“The Coloring Song” is that number one single and to this day endures as one of Petra’s best known songs. The lyrics paint a rainbow of the gospel, pointing to the listener to the substitutionary death of Christ on the cross (“Red is the color of the blood that flowed”), the sinner’s hardness to the gospel (“Blue is the color of a heart so cold”). Gold is used in word play to point us to the love of the Son, and brown to introduce a verse about the natural course of death and life in creation and to show that God transcends that cycle in the human heart.

“Chameleon” is probably my favorite song on this album, a true rocker with a heavy emphasis on Bob Hartman’s guitar. It’s the lyrics, though, that really catch the ear for how bold, blunt, convicting, and challenging they are — calling the listener to not be a so-called Christian who blends in with his surrounding, looking like the church one minute and like the world the next. “Come out! Come out! Come out from among them!” shouts Volz, echoing the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 6. And consider the closing verse, “There is no gray, no neutral ground / There’s only black and white / And nothing in between the two / To turn a wrong into right / There is no time for your charade / You’ve got to make your stand / When salt has lost its savor / The world becomes so bland.”

“Angel of Light” is another solid rocker, again echoing the apostle Paul. The song’s lyrics are directed at the devil, who masquerades to the world as an angel of light, “but only bring[s] darkness to [your] soul.” The last verse talks about the effect Satan has had on the world and the church. “Killing My Old Man” doesn’t do much for me musically but the lyrics talk about the necessity of the Christian, as a new creature, to put off the old self. “Without Him We Can Do Nothing” mixes messages from John and Paul to point to the simple truth that it’s impossible to not sin apart from Christ. Really good message.

The title track, “Never Say Die,” encourages the listener to press on in tough times because in Christ we’ve come too far. “I Can Be Friends With You” is a slow one that points to the inestimable value of friendship with Christ compared to other potential relationships. You get the feeling that “For Annie” was written specifically for youth groups. It’s fine. “Father of Lights” is kind of just there on the album. The closing track is one of Petra’s best combinations of rock and praise, the aptly titled “Praise Ye the Lord.” A very solid track.

You get the feeling that Bob Hartman, in particular, had been reading a lot of Paul’s letters in penning the songs on this album, and of course that’s always a good thing. Never Say Die was certainly a welcomed change from Washes Whiter Than, at least in my view, and it really signaled the beginning of the first of the two “golden ages” for Petra. Better times were ahead, but you shouldn’t miss this one either.