Kevin Max, the self proclaimed "eccentric" man of Christian music has been hard at work, and the prolific "return of the singer" offers up a covers project full of spiritual songs, titled Serve Somebody. Covering such iconic bands and artists like The Call, Mr. Mister, U2, Rich Mullins, Larry Norman, Bob Dylan, and even Max's former band DC Talk, we hear a Kevin Max that sounds seasoned and as confident as ever in his unmistakably unique voice. The question to be answered with any covers album is, "does the artist walk the fine line of respecting the original version, and simultaneously make it different enough to claim it as their own?" The short answer here is yes, as each arrangement artfully walks this line in a way that only a veteran artist can.
Kicking things off is the song "Let the Day Begin," originally by The Call, and we immediately hear influences of Queen's harmonies as Max sings, "here's to you/my love, my love." Track two is the Mr. Mister song "Kyrie," which is a Greek phrase meaning "Lord have mercy." This song is perfect for Max's voice, and works well coming from him in this stage of life as he looks back on his career up to this point, and looks forward to the b-side of his life. Sounding like he was made to sing it, U2 classic "Pride (In the Name of Love)" comes next, and his voice soars as he sticks close to the original and allows it to speak for itself. Probably the most anticipated track for this reviewer was the cover of Rich Mullin's song, "Creed," and Max does a fine job of honoring one of the late singer's favorite songs. The hammered dulcimer of the original is not present, but the lower register of his voice matched in harmony with his tenor adds a layer of vocal interest. Bob Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody" follows, with Max's version amping up the gospel feel from the original all the way to eleven. Max updates the 60's Jesus Music feel of Larry Norman's song "Righteous Rocker" on track six to have more of a rock shuffle with some tasty guitar licks, and it works well with the rest of the album. DC Talk's "Red Letters," from their final studio album Supernatural, is up next and a darker treatment is what results. While he once partnered with his DC Talk mates on this song nearly twenty years ago, he sings it now with an almost desperate conviction that only time and maturity can produce. The musical direction has a more ominous tone, but this version is missing the rock moment in the original version's bridge as Max decides to keep it more low key this time around. Lastly, we get a different more rock oriented version of "Gotta Serve Somebody," which this reviewer prefers. There's just a little more crunch in the guitars than the gospel of the prior track.
The only critique that can be levied at this fine bunch of songs is that many of them have been covered ad nauseam, and even different song choices from the same artists would have been welcomed. However, one can understand why Max decided to cover these particular songs as they each have personal significance to him. Even with that being said, it is a minor gripe, and this is a great offering from Kevin Max fully deserving of your attention. The true cohesion of sound and spiritual themes was clearly well thought out, and the production and mixing of legendary artist and producer John Mark Painter is a highlight as well. If you liked the original versions of these songs, you will find much to like about Max's interpretation of them, and if you had previously never heard many of the originals, he points the way to some potential new favorite artists and songs. This one is not to be missed!
- Review date: 7/4/17, written by Josh Balogh of Jesusfreakhideout.com