When I was in high school I discovered that there was this thing called “Christian rock.” A friend invited me to a concert by Larry Norman, one of the genre’s pioneers and someone the music writer Andrew Beaujon rightly described as “seriously weird.” I very much liked the show, but when I bought one of Norman’s records I was deeply disappointed. All the grit he’d brought to the live show had been polished off by the record company, and to my ears the result sounded amateurish and a bit too safe. As a result, I quickly abandoned this “Christian rock” stuff.
In the late 1980s I again bumped into the genre, which by then had grown and diversified to the point where it had become “Contemporary Christian Music” or CCM, and included everything from heavy metal to rap to radio-friendly pop. Not only that, but thanks to the success of Amy Grant’s Unguarded album, there was a fair bit of buzz about CCM artists now being able to cross over into the big world of popular music. Among those seen as the most likely candidates to do so was Charlie Peacock.
The cross-over never really happened, though Peacock soon became known as a sought-after song-writer and producer. He co-wrote Amy Grant’s hit “Every Heartbeat” from the Heart in Motion album, and over the years has been a serious presence in the work of a vast array of musicians, including Switchfoot and more recently the highly acclaimed duo, The Civil Wars.
And now here’s a solo record from Peacock called No Man’s Land, his first vocal project since 1999. For this one he’s gone deep into what is often called “Americana,” and for me it works like nothing he’s done before. Think of the classic records of The Band from the 1960s bumping up against a bit of the groove of Little Feat. Or think in terms of Memphis meets Nashville meets some very fine music played at a kitchen party somewhere on the dirt road between the two, and you’ll have a sense of what Peacock is doing here.
He’s a very fine producer, and I’d have to say that No Man’s Land is anything but loose or spontaneous. It is a very carefully constructed record, without a note or a sound out of place, yet for all that it avoids sounding over-produced or safe.
Peacock’s faith is also quite evident, but it doesn’t overwhelm this album in any way. There are no pious platitudes or religious clichés in sight… instead what comes through is the mature and searching faith of a serious musician who has gone deep into the roots of American music in order to say something fresh. This one is spending a fair bit of time on both my iPod and my home stereo.
And did I mention that Charlie Peacock is a big John Coltrane fan? In my books that can only be a good thing!