Larry Norman was a true musical pioneer, introducing rock music to Christians and, conversely, introducing rock music to Christianity. In 1972, he released his most famous and influential album, Only Visiting This Planet. This review doesn't have enough space to cover the wide range of influence Norman had on CCM, but for a snippet of how deep that influence went, look no further than Kevin Max. With dcTalk, Max covered one of Norman's most famous tracks, "I Wish We'd All Been Ready," and later as a solo artist covered "Righteous Rocker" on his Serve Somebody EP. Now Max makes the ultimate homage to Norman by completely re-recording Only Visiting This Planet, giving it modern production and updated arrangements (along with a few lyrical surprises here and there). Aptly named Revisiting This Planet, how do classic songs written in the late '60s/early '70s fare with a "Maxed out" interpretation? Turns out, really well; like, "This is a highlight of the year!" well.
Laying out the set list in the order it originally appeared (Norman later shuffled the track listing on subsequent re-issues), Max spares no expense in giving the songs proper treatment. "Why Don't You Look Into Jesus" starts off deceptively mellow before Max is joined by a backing choir to give the refrain extra punch. "The Outlaw" updates the folk sound of the original to more modern tastes while tracks like "Righteous Rocker #1," "Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music," and "Reader's Digest" carry an intense, infectious energy. The originals also had energy, but Max masterfully unleashes the songs' full potential in ways that Norman wished to do but never had the time, skill, or production to accomplish.
The new arrangements generally run closely with the old, but what struck me while listening is how natural Max is with these tunes. It's almost like Norman wrote them for someone like Kevin Max to cover. Of course, there are some "Maxisms" thrown in, like vocal ad libs and spoken word, but it's all perfectly restrained and sprinkled in, complementing the tunes instead of trying to morph them into something they're not. In fact, I'd have a hard time saying which version of a particular song would be better than the other. Norman's original release is considered a classic for good reason, but Max's take on it is almost as good. I could listen to either and be equally happy with both.
The one cover that didn't feel quite as strong was "The Great American Novel." Granted, the original doesn't have much of a melody to it, but it worked as a folk protest song. This newer version is given a little more atmosphere, but it didn't work for me. Tacked on at the end of this record is a Kevin Max original called "God Part IV." It's meant to be a tribute to Norman and is certainly in the pioneer's rebellious spirit. At first, the tune felt unnecessary or detracted from what came before, but it's growing on me with subsequent listens.
It's hard to critique a cover album like Revisiting This Planet. The original material was so good and so influential, the covers naturally benefit from that. But Kevin Max makes these tunes his own. Though good as they were, this fresh coat of paint brings new attention to them that reminds anyone who listens why they're still relevant today. Kevin Max's Revisiting This Planet is a definite highlight of this year and will be worth revisiting for years to come.- Review date: 12/2/20, written by John Underdown of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: Blind Thief Recordings
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