Floodgate Records, a California music label run by the enigmatic Tim Taber (former lead singer of the legendary space rock band The Prayer Chain) has followed a strange path to success. After the unceremonial break-up of The Prayer Chain, other members continued to make music in the Brit-pop vein, participating in successful projects such as Starflyer 59, The Lassie Foundation, and Cush. But, for some odd reason, Tim Taber decided to go a totally different route. He founded Floodgate Records, and heavily promoted a number of albums made by Rita Springer, who is, of all things, a contemporary Christian worship songwriter and singer. It was almost as if Taber was seeking a clean break from the grungy, earthy drone-filled, dark music of The Prayer Chain, seeking instead to invest his efforts into projects that were the complete opposite of his former band. This move left a number of music fans scratching their heads. Where was the Christ-inspired rock? Where were the guitars? Where are the moody, moping bands, singing about faith in a tough world?
Well, true fans of The Prayer Chain know that Taber was probably the least dark and moody of The Prayer Chain crew. Thus, it should not be surprising that, after a lengthy absence from the rock scene, Taber provides listeners with Cool Hand Luke‘s Wake Up O Sleeper, a surprisingly delightful collection of dense, atmospheric, passionate quasi-space rock songs about faith. While the lyrical subject matter of Wake Up O Sleeper is visibly less morose than The Prayer Chain‘s songs, the two groups share a little more in common than just the Taber connection. Wake Up O Sleeper is produced by Steve Hindalong, who produced The Prayer Chain‘s fantastic Mercury. Both bands also share a love for long, meandering jams and odd time signatures. And, ultimately, both bands share a love for communicating Biblical truth from a fresh musical perspective.
Wake Up O Sleeper, though, a cd with merit of its own. Beginning with a minute-long instrumental jam with tight rhythms, and interweaving jangly guitars “Heroes will be Heroes” sets the mood. Sounding like a cross between The Tea Party and Appleseed Cast (while retaining a quality all on its own), “Heroes will be Heroes” is a nice introduction to the band, featuring fiery vocals from Mark Nicks. Moving on from there, the listener is treated to big, hooky choruses, a nice interplay of guitars (both distorted and clean), tasteful sporadic pianos and keys, and moody sounds. “Two Pianos” is definitely a highlight, with its drones and odd percussion noises giving way to a Lennonesque piano and string based melody that builds impressively as the song progresses. Songs like these show Cool Hand Luke‘s versatility, as they transcend a simple space rock to incorporate a variety of musical sounds and ideas that work nicely. Another high point of the cd is found on “This Is Love” chorus, with Nicks passionately declaring “This is love, that You would die for me” overtop layers upon layers of glorious guitars. Christine Glass-Byrd also lends some beautiful, ethereal background vocals on the outro of “So Shall it Be”, giving the song an otherworldly character. With moments like these (as well as many others), Cool Hand Luke impresses the listener with their creativity and musical ear.
However, for Christian listeners, the real highlight of Wake Up O Sleeper may come in the form of the intelligent, sincere, and fervent lyrics that Cool Hand Luke pens. Even a cursory glancing-over of Cool Hand Luke‘s lyrics present uplifting and encouraging words that are apparent enough to understand. An example of this is found in “O Shachah”, the final song on the cd:
“We bow our heads and bend our knees, in a legalistic state of mind, but if nothing happens inwardly, we’re only wasting precious time”
With exhorting lyrics like these, Cool Hand Luke calls the believer in Jesus back to a closer relationship with Him, while at the same time offering the grace found in Jesus to unbelievers. Cool Hand Luke‘s ability to meld creative and at times overwhelming musical textures with thought-provoking and personal lyrics is excellent, and in some ways mirrors bands like The Prayer Chain. No wonder Taber appreciated this band enough to sign them and lend them the producer of his band’s masterpiece. Cool Hand Luke offers an interesting listening with fresh lyrics. Nicely done!