John Davis: John Davis
Label: Rambler Records
Sound/Style: Classic rock- and pop-influenced songs containing street-level Christian testimony
By Steve Morley
(UMCom) -- What with its legacy of rebellion, hedonism and wanton free will, rock and roll music has long been the object of disdain, particularly in the religious sphere. Few could dispute that rock music has been a banner under which much worldly misadventure has thrived. Still, why should it surprise anyone that music – like virtually every other divine creation – has been perverted for man’s pleasure and for selfish ends? Rock and roll’s allure of power and money captivated not only wild young idealists but also the immaculately groomed businessmen who crassly exploited it. Be it a gold satin jacket, gold record, gold-top Les Paul guitar or a golden calf, an idol is an idol no matter how you melt it down. In the end, God will redeem what He will redeem, whether it’s a stiff-necked tribe of whining wanderers or a scruffy, burned-out rocker who has worshipped at the throne of Hendrix, Lennon and a host of other guitar-slinging gods. John Davis, incidentally, would be a prime example of the latter.
A self-confessed rock music addict, Davis faced still more dangerous drugs in the midst of his ten-year stint fronting a band called Superdrag. Drawn by the dark mythology behind rock’s most fascinating figures, Davis embraced the lifestyle of his musical heroes and eventually found himself embroiled in a life-or-death battle with alcoholism. Having been raised attending a rural church he could literally see out the back door of his East Tennessee home, it wasn’t a matter of knowing Jesus; it was a matter of returning to Him, which came about in a dramatic spiritual turnaround mere weeks before the musician’s wedding in December of 2001. Most of the songs on Davis’ self-titled debut grew out of the period of transition between this supernatural encounter and the gradual unwinding of existing recording and touring commitments with his band.
Too often, performers who experience a conversion quickly decry their prior careers and retreat from them to become semi-regulars on TBN. The entertainment industry, which is polarized between secular and Christian camps, provides few alternatives. While this is sometimes a God-ordained career move that brings the Word into the secular realm, it just as often renders the witness of a performer irrelevant to the general public. What makes Davis’ path worth noting is the fact that he hasn’t betrayed (nor has he felt called to abandon) his longtime fans by setting aside the part of his musical makeup that initially attracted them. In so doing, he’s racked up a victory for boundary-breaking spiritual music and perhaps planted a seed that God will raise up as He raised up Davis himself. With his post-Superdrag material, the musician has managed the improbable by drawing unashamedly from secular rock (without reducing the fat grams) and writing lyrics that just as unapologetically present Jesus’ life-altering resurrection power. No veiled references here, and none of that "well, it’s a love song that might be for a human or might be for God, depending on how you interpret it."
If you’re content with Christian music’s status quo, it might require an adjustment to appreciate Davis’ chunkier and more electrified offerings. The more progressive listener, though, will find a succulent variety of songs ranging from winsome melodicism (the Beach Boys-like "I Hear Your Voice" and "Stained Glass Window") to blistering guitar bluster ("Too Far Out," "Tear Me Apart") to country- and gospel-rock hybrids ("Jesus Gonna Build Me A Home," "Do You Know How Much You’ve Been Loved?"). Davis, who played every instrument on this deeply personal album, has a knack for integrating his multi-striped influences into music that transcends mere soundalike fare. He chops and channels classic pop-rock salvage into shiny rebuilds like the exhilarating "Me And My Girl," a shimmering marvel of invention that upsets pop song convention by substantially delaying the arrival of its modest but anchoring chorus. The track’s soaring, George Harrison-esque guitar center is bookended by serpentine verses that imaginatively fuse romance and redemption without minimizing either: "As surely as the sun gives light and beckons each new day/I’m gonna be with you tonight though I may be away/there’s something we can laugh about in the evening/something we can smile about as we’re leaving/and we’ll know each other there/it’s written here somewhere/a little hole in the ground couldn’t hold what we’ve found/we are no longer bound to the things of this world/me and my girl/I said she is my girl."
Elsewhere, Davis unfurls striking, full-fledged worship. On the record’s centerpiece "The Kind Of Heart," his sincere awe at the significance and cost of Jesus’ death on the cross is expressed in compelling modern poetry over a time-skewed, otherworldly musical backdrop. In fact, the anointed piece is so well rendered that it would be a disservice to print only an excerpt. By the time the disc has ended, Davis has covered his faith from nearly every imaginable angle – his own changed life and his struggle to change, his newfound joy and freedom, his invitation to others and, most of all, a bold and loving declaration of the Gospel with nary a trace of judgement or condescension to non-believers. John Davis is a gap-bridging album that introduces a major talent to the Christian music world and proves not only that rock music need not be diluted to be useful as a ministry tool, but that maybe – just maybe – it was designed for that very purpose.
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.