Richie Furay: I Am Sure
Label: Friday Music
Sound/Style: Guitar-centered country-rock with worship emphasis
By Steve Morley
(UMCom) -- As a charter member of Buffalo Springfield and Poco, Richie Furay was a co-architect of country-rock in the late ‘60s whose contributions to that genre are part of its DNA. Furay, who authored much of Poco’s early material and whose penetrating, genial vocals heavily imprinted their sound, left the pioneering band in 1973. Soon thereafter, a fellow musician’s witness resulted in Furay’s choice to embrace Christianity. His 1976 album I’ve Got A Reason, a rare example of Christian-themed music on a secular label (Asylum Records), hit #130 on the Billboard album charts, but effectively signaled the end of his mainstream career. Furay eventually took up a pastoral post in Colorado, where he has remained ever since. Because his reputation looms so large, though, his sporadic solo releases typically attract attention outside the Christian music community. His latest, I Am Sure, is certain to raise eyebrows amongst the Western rock posse, featuring guest appearances by Chris Hillman (The Byrds, Desert Rose Band), Poco co-founders Jim Messina and Rusty Young and principal members of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. In addition to their collective contributions on harmony vocals, pedal steel and crackling guitar work, the legendary country-rock alumni bring stylistic authenticity to the proceedings. The new album, a collection of worship songs titled I Am Sure, shows Furay in fine form, revisiting the hopped-up twang-rock style he helped birth nearly 40 years ago.
The new disc is dominated by supple electric guitars, sprightly tempos and clean, vivid melodies, but is underscored by an earthy, rural sound, thanks to the liberal use of traditional country instruments. Banjo and slide guitar, for example, propel the upbeat "Jesus, Eternal King," and a sinewy fiddle intertwines with shadowy guitar figures on "Most High," a rough-edged midtempo tune reminiscent of mid-period Eagles in its blend of dark and light shadings. The rock trappings are put aside altogether on "So Far To Go," a quick-stepping prayer for spiritual refreshment and, most noticeably, on the pure, bluegrass-heavy "City Of God," based on Psalm 87. Most of the songs here are drawn from specific Scriptures, an approach that only falters on "Come And Praise Him," which stuffs the Colossians 10 prayer into awkwardly sung phrases. Elsewhere, the lyrics rely heavily on standard worship language and structure, lacking the creative flair of their musical counterparts. Furay writes from the heart, though, and if he’s conscious of his secular audience, he does little to accommodate them, for better or worse. (We now interrupt this review for a Soapbox Moment: Why does the Christian market so readily accept recycled song lyric ideas in music aimed at the Most High God? Is there a way to write such songs without totally alienating secular ears? Perhaps not, but it’s a challenge worth considering.) In simple, straight-ahead praise choruses, Furay speaks in unapologetic Christian-ese, using his title track to declare that "we are set apart by God." Those who may not be at home with the message will find it easy to swallow the song’s twin slide guitar break, though, as well as the tasteful vocal arrangements and instrumental interplay found throughout the disc. Conversely, worshippers weary of the generic quality of much contemporary praise music will likely revel in the crisp, clean flavor Furay injects into songs that celebrate God without sacrificing individual personality in the process. With the confidently delivered I Am Sure, he maintains both musical and doctrinal integrity, raising the bar for modern worship music and providing a shot in the arm for its credibility in the skeptical pop music world-at-large.
Steve Morley is a freelance music journalist living in College Grove, Tenn.
This review was developed by UMC.org, the official online ministry of the United Methodist Church.