Getting to Know Kevin Max
Posted June 29, 2017
By MarcusHathcock_NRT, Staff Reviewer
Here's the truth: Kevin Max is back. Since becoming a solo artist 15 years ago, he's had an on-again, off-again relationship with the Christian music world. The various twists and turns of his own musical and spiritual pursuits have seen one of our industry's most iconic voices fade in and out of the ecosystem, but now, he says, God has moved powerfully in his heart, and he's coming home to Christian music.
That's not to say that Kevin Max is going to conform to the musical, lyrical and genre norms of the industry--no, no, no. Max is, and always will be, an artist. He's pursuing that elusive white whale of songs that are universally accessible and personally honest. And he does it with seismic vibrato and unmatched poetic flair, like he always has.
With the Serve Somebody EP, Max's first offering of 2017 (a new single, "Plans," hit radio shortly afterward, hinting at more music to come) we experience Max's artistry not through his own original prose, but by seeing his story through the lens of the songs he's chosen to cover.
The eight-song EP (seven songs, if you take into account that one song has two different treatments) is a buffet of songs from the '70s, '80s and '90s--inside and outside the Christian music world.
Maybe it's the fact that I just finished Season 1 of Stranger Things, but I think by paying attention to these songs' messages, we can get a State of the Union of sorts with regard to the sovereign nation of Kevin Max.
Album opener "Let the Day Begin" (originally performed by The Call) is a dedication page of sorts, with Max singing out that the music is for everyone to hear, accompanied by soaring electric guitars that give us a taste of what might've been with Audio Adrenaline, and what kind of was with songs like "Jump Start My Electric Heart."
That flows into Mister Mister's "Kyrie," which, translated from its Latin, communicates "Lord, have mercy on the road that I must travel." The line, "Somewhere between the soul and soft machine is where I find myself again," seems to communicate a lot about Max's pursuit of spiritual fruit, lyrical honesty and musical transcendence. Max's voice flies here and is strong as ever, although I would've loved to have seen him go off the script a little more.
The cover of U2's "Pride (In the Name of Love)" gives a list of people who gave everything for the sake of love. And after asking for mercy, Max (doing a fairly solid Bono impression, actually) communicates with this song that love requires sacrifice--something he's prepared to do.
The first song from the CCM sphere then comes into play, with Ragamuffin Rich Mullins' "Creed"--a song that definitively expresses what Mullins, Max and millions of believers hold true, values and beliefs that unite the Christian family. Max is saying, "This is what I believe." While it may not be an exact match stylistically for Max's voice (his voice is naturally far too big for it), it's an important statement piece for him and for this record.
The next two tracks, "Gotta Serve Somebody" (originally performed by Bob Dylan) and album highlight "Righteous Rocker" (Larry Norman) have similar messages, saying that no matter what you do, you're serving someone, and no matter who you are, without love you're nothing (even if you're serving the right someone). This is also an important expansion on what Max believes at this point in his faith walk: Serve Jesus, but when you do, you'd better have love.
There's two different versions of "Gotta Serve Somebody," and it's safe to say they're equally good, although people's musical preferences will tip the scales. As for me, I enjoy the funky, piano groove-driven, gospel edge of the "Special Roll Mix." Rockers will indeed love the "RockN Mix," which finishes out the album.
Finally, we're treated to a Kevin Max-only cover of "Red Letters," from dcTalk's final(?) album, Supernatural, where we hear, "Heed the words divinely spoken / May your restless heart be broken / Let the supernatural take hold." These lyrics are, no doubt, very present to the work being done in Max's heart, but we're also hoping this all means that his future lies at least partly with his old band (whose voices I did miss in this rendition).
With Serve Somebody, it's almost as if Kevin Max is coming up for air from the deep waters of his musical pursuits to give us a little glimpse into what God has done/is doing in his heart. The musical production is top notch, his band is killer, and his vocals strong as ever. When the songs work, they really work, and the EP is an enjoyable listen. When a couple of the songs don't necessarily fire on all cylinders, you're able to understand that there's something important being said here--and maybe for the first time, through others' songs, out of the symbolic gymnastics of his own works, we're at last getting inside the mind and heart of Kevin Max.
Song to Download:
View All Music And Book Reviews By MarcusHathcock_NRT | View MarcusHathcock_NRT's Profile