New Kevin Max EP SERVE SOMEBODY drops July 7th on Gotee Records

From the moment that DC Talk member/former-Audio-Adrenaline-frontman/ever-evolving-solo-artist/poet/writer Kevin Max leaked the demo for his cover of Larry Norman’s “Righteous Rocker” on his Soundcloud page, my interest and enthusiasm for the upcoming cover project SERVE SOMEBODY skyrocketed! With fuzzy bass, thick, crunchy guitar, and production assistance in the able hands of Nashville rock music star handyman John Mark Painter, the track breaths and grooves with heavy classic rock strides that grabbed me immediately from the first listen and haven’t let go.

Max then leaked another demo version through Soundcloud that fully affirmed and solidified the high level of anticipation sparked by “Righteous Rocker.” The second being a cover of Bob Dylan’s 1979 classic, “Gotta Serve Somebody,” again flaunting a spot-on classic blues rock vibe that fits the song like a well-worn, but, form-fitting leather biker’s boot. “Gotta Serve Somebody,” also features soulful, textured layers background vocals provided by Painter’s wife and longtime musical partner, Fleming McWilliams.

The first impression of this yet-to-be-released covers project, based on these two unfinished songs, is resoundingly positive and I expect that the other tracks that will be included on the EP will not fail to satisfy, either.

The EP is scheduled for release on July 7 from Gotee Records.servesomebody

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Meanders Music Review: PLAYING GAMES WITH THE SHADOW by Kevin Max

cibmdqmukaagjqlPLAYING GAMES WITH THE SHADOW, the latest in a prolific stream of output from Kevin Max, may very well be his most brilliant work yet. The fact that Max describes the new project as his first real album due to an intentional exclusion of outside influence in the songwriting process has me rubbing my hands together in anxious anticipation of what could yet be if he continues on this path.

Last year’s  BROKEN TEMPLES was a fantastic album and THE IMPOSTER is a long-time standard, but, on PLAYING GAMES WITH THE SHADOW Max freed himself to explore the musical and lyrical dynamics that exist between dessert valleys, Sunset strips, midnight shadows, and pre-dawn hope in a manner both deeper and more transparent than he’s written in on prior albums. “The Skin Of Our Teeth,” “Election,” and “Girl With The Tiger Eyes” stand as testaments to the fact that the thick skin Max has carried over the years as a member of dcTalk and Audio Adrenaline has been pulled back.

The lyrical victory on PLAYING GAMES WITH THE SHADOW, though, is clearly rivaled by the stellar roster of players and studio hands that Max arranged to work on the album from John Mark Painter (Fleming & John; Steve Taylor & The Perfect Foil) and Dwayne Larring (Audio Adrenaline; Sonic Flood) to Steve Hindalong (The Choir) and others, musical alchemy runs rabid on songs such as “Muzick is Magic!,” “Phantoms of Terra,“”Panic Button,” and “William Blake.

Stylistically, the album is a measured, yet, raucous potpourri of sound. PLAYING GAMES WITH THE SHADOW is the embodiment of new wave, punk, and industrial accents masterfully woven together into a flourescent musical tapestry born out of the mind of Kevin Max.

Consider this written account of the impression that PLAYING GAMES WITH THE SHADOW has made on me a raised-glass toast to the prospect that there’s a lot more where that came from.

Get PLAYING GAMES WITH THE SHADOW through the Pledge Music Campaign

Preview PLAYING GAMES WITH THE SHADOW streaming now at RELEVANT MAGAZINE

Purchase on iTunes

 

 

Embracing “The Girl With The Tiger Eyes” by Kevin Max

I was talking with a friend recently and he brought up the point that radio stations like KLOVE and AIR1, unfortunately, are defining what is considered acceptable in the Christian marketplace by controlling such a large market share, but, exposing such a narrow template that artists who hope to be played must adhere to in order to even have a chance to survive. Because of this fact, artistry in the Christian world is on a very short leash and it is a disturbing reality since, as Christians, we are not called to reach other Christians, but, to reach the world. How can we do that when we encase ourselves in clean, pre-fabricated plastic molded for optimal marketing potential?

I truly appreciate several of the songs that I’ve heard, so far, from the forthcoming Kevin Max album, PLAYING GAMES WITH THE SHADOW, and the fact that Kevin Max is doing what he does.The video for “Girl With The Tiger Eyes,” while it may raise a few eyebrows in some circles, is an articulate metaphor for the demons that so many of us carry around. Whether hidden in a basement or exposed for all to see, the skeletons in our past (and often our present) are most often neither pastel-colored nor family friendly. There is value in remembering and acknowledging the dark that we deal with – a therapeutic aspect. It is only when we stare down our own brokenness and sift through our own ashes that we can submit to grace and let the rebuilding begin because, if we’re only willing to reveal our surface-level, kid-glove veneers – our Sunday best, we’re lying to ourselves, to God, and the world around us. We’re offering no value. If we can’t affect others at a gut-level and reveal the holes and traps that we’ve fallen victim to, ourselves, we may not affect them at all due to our own vain hypocrisy. There’s an entire world full of drunkards, junkies, victims of abuse, prisoners, and thieves out there that Jesus sought out to spend time with. I’m glad that there are Christians like Kevin Max out there ready, willing, and able to bridge the gap between reality, art, and God in a manner that so many out there on the Road Show/KLOVE/Winter Jam/Hits Deep circuits fail to even attempt due to the fact that they know they won’t get played on Christian radio. There is most certainly a place for clean, family friendly lyrics of praise and pastoral landscapes. The bible instructs us to focus on these things in our personal lives. But, we’re also called to tell the truth.

Unlike His followers, God specializes in those with the deepest wounds. I think we’re often scared off by the possibility of becoming uncomfortable or even being inconvenienced behind our white picket fences. As a parent I know that I get very nervous when it comes to thinking about who or what my kids’ attention is being drawn to when they’re not within my reach, so, I get that. But, I also think that there needs to be a distinction drawn between youth group Christianity and mature Christianity. We need to engage the youth demographic in learning to be thoughtful and critical of what they are listening to, watching, doing, who they are spending their time with and why. I don’t want to cut my kids off from exploring various forms of art (whether music, visual, etc.), but, instead I want then to learn to think critically about it instead of rejecting everything they see and hear in a conditioned knee-jerk manner.

I believe that, if I can effectively raise my kids with that perspective, they will be more equipped to be mature Christians that aren’t driven by fear, but, instead, by truth and confidence in faith and so that they can be free to reach out and consistently show love and respect to those who are different and who may not know Christ on a personal level. If Christians could make an effort to do this as a whole, I don’t think there would be a “religious right” in American politics and Donald Trump wouldn’t have the following that he as (not that the religious right and Trump are always one-in-the-same). People tend to love less when they fear more and the current political climate is capitalizing on that fact.

Kevin Max, to me, represents an important aspect of the mature Christianity that I’m talking about. I wouldn’t say that his entire catalog of poetry and music is representative of it, but, who he is and the art that he produces is certainly a part of the spectrum. Life and the potential that each of us has to affect others and live out our faith happens, most often, off church grounds. Our art, our deeds, our thoughts, and actions should, likewise, be rooted in God (and nurtured in devotion privately each day – as well as with other believers), but, focused in an outward direction and articulated in a way that engages those on the fringe and the outside instead of scaring them off with our Christianese clique subculture.

Max’s forthcoming project, PLAYING GAMES WITH THE SHADOW, I believe, is exemplary of the kind of artful, thoughtful music that is well underrepresented in Christian music and, for that matter, music in general. Thankfully, there are enough people who get it and value the role that his music, and other music like it, plays in the real-world daily lives of so many and the potential that it has to engage those just outside in a way that is as relevant and articulate, in not more so, than anything out there, Christian or secular.

Learn more about how you can support Max’s new project,  and get eight new songs including “Girl With The Tiger Eyes”, here: PLAYING GAMES WITH THE SHADOW.

Music Review: BROKEN TEMPLES (Deluxe Edition) by Kevin Max

BROKEN TEMPLES (deluxe edition) now available through iTunes

BROKEN TEMPLES by Kevin Max was released earlier this year and what follows is my original review of the album as it was released then, but, updated with commentary on the additional tracks available on the Deluxe Edition of BROKEN TEMPLES that is now available through iTunes. Also included in this updated post is the lyric video “Light Me Up” from BROKEN TEMPLES and the lyric video for for the new song “Love Feels Like (featuring dcTalk)” which features Kevin Max, along with Michael Tait, on TobyMac’s just-released album THIS IS NOT A TEST.

Broken Temples, the latest solo album from Kevin Max, the iconic voice of dc Talk and “Kings & Queens”-era Audio Adrenaline, is an album that celebrates space and the perspective it can bring, both figuratively and literally. Lyrics throughout the album paint a bird’s eye view of literal and figurative open highway landscapes, deep valleys amidst jagged peaks, and moments of still, quiet solitude contrasted by the boundless measure of the heavens and the infinite God that moves in, around, and through them.

The themes explored lyrically on this album are a marked departure from Max’s last solo effort, 2010’s Cotes d’Armor (True Rebels). Instead of what, by comparison, were darker, cryptic lyrics juxtaposed with ambient electronica, Broken Temples offers a direct line to hope, but, without the candy coating of Christian clichés so overused on contemporary Christian radio. Laid out on a framework of new wave with occasional nods to the influence of U2, Johnny Cash, and the Beatles, the album is a clear product of Max’s musical influences. That fact, in and of itself, is respectable, since so many artists make so many concessions in their music just for the sake of getting on the radio.
It is Max’s ability to articulately explore and celebrate truths of God and the importance of grace as a dynamic in the lives of believers that I appreciate as much as, if not even more than, his amazing voice. Kevin Max is a poet and his expertise as a craftsman of words is on full display in the songs of Broken Temples. It takes a great lyricist to be able to use words within reach of the common lexicon, and to arrange and partner each of them with just the right musical moments in a song, in order to produce an emotional and personally relevant response within the listener that is both memorable and meaningful, and to do so to a degree that is greater than the sum of its parts. It is even more impressive when he can do so while simultaneously leaving enough room in the interpretation of the lyrics to allow almost anyone to connect their own bruised hearts with the experiences of a man who has stated that the lyrics to the songs of Broken Temples (“Just As I Am,” in particular) are some of the most personal that he’s ever written.
Lyrical gems alluding to the broken nature of humanity, and the relief and purpose that we have the chance to grab hold of through God’s grace, are threaded throughout the album and employed in a manner that communicates hope for the broken without ever conceding to the banality of the latest Christian music industry platitudes. I’m certain that I could tell my own redemptive life story by simply excerpting lines from the lyrics of songs like “Good King’s Highway,” “Light Me Up,” “Just As I Am,” and “That Was Then And This Is Now,” – all songs that reflect back on life-lived, for better or worse, and acknowledging the wonder of grace and eternal hope in the face of it all. But, it is the stripped down arrangement of “That Was Then And This Is Now,” certainly one of my favorite tracks from the album, that grabs me immediately within the first few seconds of the song and engages me on a deeper level, as Max sings about finding assurance and peace in the growing space between the mistakes of our past and the present hope of our future, through the duration of the song.
“Good King’s Highway” is a solid opening track that rings with optimism and celebrates providence in the midst of the journey of life from the very first note going forward while “Light Me Up,” a decidedly and unapologetically-pop song, alludes to God’s ability and desire to use us, in our broken state, for his lasting purpose and, in doing so, provide a more abundant sense of life and meaning than we ever could’ve imagined before. The slick pop sound, set against the substance and poetic depth of the lyrics in “Light Me Up,” “Just As I Am,” and “When We Were Young,” are another characteristic stroke of Max genius.
Purchase and Download the music of Kevin Max on iTunes

Purchase and Download the music of Kevin Max on iTunes

As the 80’s new wave-inspired tracks “Just As I Am” and “Clear” unfold, the listener’s attention is focused inward as Max reflects upon the one-to-one, personal dynamic that exists between God and believer when we choose to accept His hope personally. Max ably meets the challenge of taking a sound so characteristic of the 80’s and making it sound completely relevant decades later.

Like “Good King’s Highway,” “White Horse” has an expansive sound, but, also has a spirit that steers closer to praise music than Max typically ventures. It does so, however, in a truly Max fashion, as he has managed to present a song that honors the truth of God without leaning on standard Christian music industry cut-and-paste lyrics, thus creating a song that is accessible not just to common believers, but, also to a wider audience that appreciates texture and artistry in music.
Broken Temples is rounded out by two Derek Web remixes (of “Just As I Am” and “Clear”) and “Infinite,” a celebratory chorus in the vein of “Give Peace A Chance” by John Lennon and “All You Need Is Love” by the Beatles. While the argument against including remixes in an album does have merit (who wouldn’t want two more original songs instead?), I enjoy Webb’s alternate take on the two remix songs (“Another Big Mistake” and “Going Clear”) further the continuity of tone established in the first eight tracks of the album, while, also adding texture to the album as a whole. “Infinite” (featuring a well-placed appearance by Rachel Lampa) provides a memorable exclamation point to the album by celebrating the fact that God is so much more than any of us can even comprehend with our finite minds. There is more going on than we can see or even hope to understand, but, God is worthy of our faith.
As a whole BROKEN TEMPLES is simply amazing. Only time will tell whether the album will gain enough of the exposure it is worthy of in order to propel Max’s presence and notoriety in the Christian music industry onward and upward to the level of respect that he deserves as a solo artist. Regardless of whether it does or it doesn’t, Broken Temples is an album that stands firmly on it’s own accord. It takes guts to trailblaze through the wilderness that Kevin Max has and the grace of God to sound this good on the other side.
DELUXE EDITION REVIEW UPDATE: With the July 2015 release of the Deluxe Edition of BROKEN TEMPLES, listeners are treated to an additional five tracks not included on the original album. Two of those, “Lay Down Your Weapons” and “Freak Flag,” were available to supporters of the BROKEN TEMPLES Pledge Campaign when BROKEN TEMPLES released in March, but, the standard version available elsewhere didn’t include them. The Deluxe Edition of BROKEN TEMPLES also includes “Memoria,” “Desperate Heart,” and a demo version of “That Was Then This Is Now.”
 
“Lay Your Weapons Down,” a bluesy, soul guitar track, and “Freak Flag,” a tongue-in-check nod to 90’s Christian rock in the vein of classic Audio Adrenaline and dcTalk, represent a tone not characteristic of the album as a whole, but, certainly warrant their own inclusion as bonus tracks. “Memoria” is my favorite of the additional tracks. It carries on a very Beatle-esque quality that is hinted at on “Infinite,” and one can’t help, but, to sing along after just a listen or two. “Desperate Heart,” on the other hand, fits extremely well into the pop-new wave feel of earlier album tracks such as “Just As I Am,” “Clear,” and “That Was Then This Is Now,” with synthesizer, bass line, drum machine, and vocal textures that would make any 80’s music fan swoon. The demo version of “That Was Then This Is Now,” is very closely related to the slightly more produced version that ended up on the standard release of BROKEN TEMPLES. They are so similar, in fact, that I’m tempted to ask why it was included. But, altogether, the five additional songs gave BROKEN TEMPLES the balance it needed to tip my assessment of this album from 4.5 out of 5 to a full 5 out of 5.
 
There is a fair amount of space for the listener to soak in and reflect upon the lyrics, as presented by Max on BROKEN TEMPLES, in order to make them their own, while the arrangements and production of the album ensure that the songs will only gain traction with repeated listens and that the album, as a whole, will age well and, perhaps even, better than other albums released by his contemporaries in the contemporary Christian music industry. Well done Mr. Max.
 
On a scale of 1-5 Stars: 4.5 (BROKEN TEMPLES)/5.0 (BROKEN TEMPLES – DELUXE EDITION)
“Infinite” by Kevin Max from BROKEN TEMPLES
“Love Feels Like (featuring dcTalk)” from TobyMac’s THIS IS NOT A TEST

JesusFreak20: Colored People

I’d like to draw my readers’ collective attention to the following post from the decentchristiantalk blog:

JesusFreak20: Colored People.

It thoughtfully recognizes the song “Colored People,” from dcTalk’s legendary album JESUS FREAK (now 20 years old!)  with the merit it deserves within the historical context of the mid-90’s. It’s worth the read.

1 Day Until BROKEN TEMPLES – A Kevin Max Countdown Retrospective: “Light Me Up,” “Infinite,” and “Kings & Queens” (acoustic)

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Kevin Max’s newest project, BROKEN TEMPLES, will officially be released on March 10. I’ll be counting down the remaining days to the release of the album on this page with a post each day exploring and celebrating, in no particular order, some of his prior creative ventures.


With just one day to go in this Kevin Max countdown retrospective our focus begins to shift from surveying the past to the present and what listeners can look forward to from BROKEN TEMPLES. “Light Me Up” is the second track on the new album that will release officially on Tuesday, March 10, and it brandishes an unapologetically pop tone that emphatically celebrates the dramatic shift that God’s grace can account for once someone realizes and yields to their need for Him as a broken temple that can only be filled and purposed by His compassion and love.

Infinite” celebrates the fact that God is so much bigger than we are. It is a notion we would be wise to keep in mind as we stumble forward through our mistakes and questions about why things happen the way that they do. God’s knowledge, wisdom, providence, and love is not restricted to the confines of a political party, the understanding of scientists, or the mental constructs of men. Likewise, Max has proven with this song that God can be praised and celebrated beautifully in ways that don’t strictly adhere to the formulaic constructs of songs that fill the airwaves of mainstream Christian radio. Every element of God’s character is limitless and peace can only be found in surrendering to that fact and trusting Him. He is a creative God. I’m so thankful for those, like Kevin Max, who continue to creatively chip away at the boundaries of what we think music can be while simultaneously honoring an infinite God with their art.

While its true that I featured “Kings & Queens” once already in this retrospective, I can’t help but to include this clip, too, which features Max, with Audio Adrenaline (including original Audio Adrenaline lead singer and Hands & Feet Project director Mark Stuart on tambourine), as yet another example of the quality of Max’s craft. It is a one-shot, live, acoustic rendition of “Kings & Queens,” a song that is a call for Christians to live up to the mandate of James 1:27 to care for the orphans of the world and Max delivers a flawless vocal performance. His voice is amazing live as well as in the studio and his new album BROKEN TEMPLES continues to deliver unparalleled vocal performances in combination with poetic lyrics that offer a greater combination of hope and beauty to the listener that can be found anywhere else in the music world.


Stream the new album BROKEN TEMPLES at New Release Tuesday

BROKEN TEMPLES by Kevin Max - coming March 2015


Read my personal explanation about why the music and poetry of Kevin Max has been so important to me.


OTHER FEATURED SONGS IN THE KEVIN MAX RETROSPECTIVE:

2 Days Until BROKEN TEMPLES: The Poetry of Kevin Max and “Cave Of A Million Songs”

3 Days Until BROKEN TEMPLES: “Believer”

4 Days Until BROKEN TEMPLES: “Get On Yer Bike”

5 Days Until BROKEN TEMPLES: “Consume Me” & “Save Me”

6 Days Until BROKEN TEMPLES: “21st Century Darlings”

7 Days Until BROKEN TEMPLES: “Just Between You And Me”

8 Days Until BROKEN TEMPLES: “Kings & Queens”

9 Days Until BROKEN TEMPLES: “When He Returns”

10 Days Until BROKEN TEMPLES: “Day By Day”

11 Days Until BROKEN TEMPLES: “Existence”

12 Days Until BROKEN TEMPLES: “Alas My Love/The Hard Way”

4 Days Until BROKEN TEMPLES: A Kevin Max Countdown Retrospective: “Get On Yer Bike”

Kevin Max’s newest project, BROKEN TEMPLES, will officially be released on March 10. I’ll be counting down the remaining days to the release of the album on this page with a post each day exploring and celebrating, in no particular order, some of his prior creative ventures.


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Stream the new album BROKEN TEMPLES at New Release Tuesday

2008’s CRASHING GATES

Somebody new to the music of Kevin Max, or somebody who knows him only based on his work with dcTalk and Audio Adrenaline, may not be aware of the edgier and more experimental music that he released from 2008-2010 on releases such as CRASHING GATES and COTES D’ARMOR. Lyrically and musically, Max stretched out the landscape that listeners had grown used to hearing by diving deeper into the valleys of life’s experience while simultaneously reveling in the lack of constraints afforded to him as an independent artist. It is, in fact, this aspect of his music that appeals to so many that have grown tired of the worn-out clichés and generic phrases that characterize much of our culture as a whole, let alone the Christian subculture that exists in America today. He was less concerned with playing it safe than he was with pushing the envelope. Today’s feature, “On Yer Bike,” (from COTES D’ARMOR) is a straight-forward rock and roll kick at the confines of those who’ve sought to box so many aspects of our lives up into neat, tidy packages. You’ll likely never hear “On Your Bike,” or any of the other tracks from either of the aforementioned releases, on mainstream Christian radio, but, they represent an element of the human existence that, for many, has been essential in their own personal prodigal journeys: a boundary-testing season after which many of us hit a breaking point and realize how helpless we are to find peace on our own.  Max has described the theme of his forthcoming album BROKEN TEMPLES as being an acknowledgement the role that our brokenness plays in “allowing the light to find its way in.” I’m thankful, for his sake, that it has. I’m thankful for our sake that he’s releasing an album about it.

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Join Kevin Max on NRT Live on release day, Tuesday, March 10 at 6PM PST/9PM EST

Read about what I get out of the music and poetry of Kevin Max and check out how you can get a digital download of the new project BROKEN TEMPLES (with two bonus tracks!) before the official March 10 release!

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Pre-order BROKEN TEMPLES


OTHER FEATURED SONGS IN THE KEVIN MAX RETROSPECTIVE:

5 Days Until BROKEN TEMPLES: “Consume Me” & “Save Me”

6 Days Until BROKEN TEMPLES: “21st Century Darlings”

7 Days Until BROKEN TEMPLES: “Just Between You And Me”

8 Days Until BROKEN TEMPLES: “Kings & Queens”

9 Days Until BROKEN TEMPLES: “When He Returns”

10 Days Until BROKEN TEMPLES: “Day By Day”

11 Days Until BROKEN TEMPLES: “Existence”

12 Days Until BROKEN TEMPLES: “Alas My Love/The Hard Way”