Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Ladies & Gentlemen...Mr. Charlie Peacock

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013
Matter of Taste Coffee Bar - Kitchener, Ontario, Canada

There are artists who offer you a smattering of crumbs once every few years. There are artists who satisfy your sweet tooth.

And then there's Charlie Peacock. As I sit here in a cozy cafĂ© in Midwestern Ontario, I am once again being treated to a smorgasbord. It's a table that I'll be coming back to for seconds and thirds and twentieths in the coming weeks, months and beyond. You see, Charles William Ashworth (born August 10th, 1956) has not released a solo vocal album in twelve years. So I'm going to bask in it like a delicious pint of dark ale.

But first some background.

Charlie was born in California, his father was a trumpeter, and as a teen he was influenced by the music of John Coltrane. He received musical instruction from his father and another instructor. He began playing jazz piano in the band The Runners after leaving California State University. During this time he met and collaborated with many, many musicians.

In 1980 A&M Records signed Peacock for a demo recording. Charlie formed The Charlie Peacock Group, and contracted with Exit Records, and in 1984 released his first album Lie Down In The Grass. CCM's 500 Best Albums Of All Time lists the alternative pop/keyboard driven Lie Down at #10. He would soon become the opening act for several bands, the most popular being the Red Hot Chili Peppers. With Lie Down, I don't think the Christian music industry knew what had hit them. This was not mainstream Amy Grant/Michael W. Smith pop, this was an artist experimenting with different genres and sounds.

I will not review every one of Charlie's albums, but instead will tell of my personal experiences with Charlie's music. I first became aware of Charlie in my mid-teens in the mid-1990's. My first Peacock "album" was his collection "...In The Light: The Very Best of Charlie Peacock (1996). The title track was made popular by DC Talk's version on their album Jesus Freak in 1996, but in fact it first appeared on Charlie's album Love Life six years earlier.

What I love about Charlie's music is that he refuses to be pigeon-holed, and while I'm sure he enjoys it when people like his music, he doesn't kowtow to the masses by putting together necessarily radio-friendly hits (though many of his songs deserve radio play).

How to describe Charlie's music through the years??? That is a tough one. Musically I would say that funk and soul are mainstays, with some albums like one of my favourite Love Life being more pop as well.  And when it comes to his lyrics, they again are a feast. Here are 3 examples:

"Experience" (1986)

There is a difference, a qualitative difference, between what I know as a fact and what I know as truth,

It stands as a great divide to separate my thinking from when I'm thinking foolishly and when I've understood,

The facts of theology can be altogether cold: though true in every way, they alone can't change me,

Truth is creative, transforming and alive,

It's truth that keeps me humble, saved and set free,

It's the truth that keeps me humble, saved and set free.

We can only possess what we experience,
We can only possess what we experience.

"Personal Revolution" (1991)

Freedom from the past didn't last through time,
Things don't change, because I pretend they're fine,

Do I flip a switch to give myself a happy life; to be a happy man, in a happy home with a happy wife?

Jesus, if you came to give life abundantly, then how do you respond to all the pretense that you see?
Do I break your heart by all the faking that I do?
There are so many places I haven't let you into.

I'm so tired of all these easy solutions,
I can't stand it; they're nothing but denial,
I think I need a personal revolution,
How can I expect the heart to sing when I don't let the soul ever feel anything?

Finally, a controversial song (for the time in the Christian music world) was Kiss Me Like A Woman from his Love Life album (1991):

We can lie naked and unashamed, made one by divine connection,
It's good to know there's a sacred trust when you give away your affections.
It's a beautiful place to be when you can trust each other completely.

Kiss me like a woman, baby, and I'll love you, love you like a man,
Love is a language we were made to understand.

Interesting note: Charlie co-wrote Amy Grant's hit Every Heartbeat in 1991.

I last heard Charlie on his 1999 album Kingdom Come...and then that was it. Not that Charlie hasn't been busy. He has put out several collaborative instrumental albums, is a notable producer, and he discovered the band Switchfoot. He also produced the album Barton Hollow by The Civil Wars.

Still I missed hearing Charlie's voice! So when a friend casually mentioned Charlie's latest album in a Facebook conversation a couple days ago, I was astounded and immediately headed to iTunes to buy it.

"No Man's Land" (October 2012) is Peacock's first vocal record in 12 years, he's now 56, and Charlie is perhaps at his very best here. Christianity Today, in giving the album 4 stars, calls it "loaded with his own hooks and ultra-high production values. As crisp as an autumn album can get, Peacock's pop sensibility combines with church-friendly lyrics to create a timeless folk sound."  This album is less pop or electronica, and definitely more soul, funk, and roots, where Charlie really shines. Indie Vision Music gives Peacock's self-produced and self-released treasure 5 stars, saying, "This album goes deep into the forest of Americana, revealing the roots of folk and blues in such a versatile way that you’re never bored. Charlie Peacock is a true storyteller; a troubadour whose lyrics resonate with honesty, truth, and doubt.  No Man’s Land is a milestone in music, a masterpiece that revitalizes the past & infuses current music with fresh life at the same time."

Friends, if you're looking for an intelligent, meaty, deeply funktafied treasure, go to iTunes or Amazon right now and pick up No Man's Land by Charlie Peacock.

Mark Andrew Alward