THE VAST MAJORITY of secular rock acts who address spiritual concerns in their albums are relatively grizzled veterans. A real exception is Live, a band based in Pennsylvania whose career has paralleled the alternative scene that blossomed in the decade just passed.
Musically, this quartet plays radio-friendly pop with alternative hooks. That sound is enriched by the fact that Jerry Harrison of Talking Heads fame has a Midas touch as this band’s producer, one which was seen on the unit’s strong first two CDs, 1991’s Mental Jewelry and the 1994 masterpiece, Throwing Copper.
Lyrically, though, the lifeblood of the career of Live has been the angst-filled spiritual journey of its songwriter, vocalist and frontman, Ed Kowalczyk. Still in his 20s, he dubs his craft “modern gospel.” On the band’s fourth album, The Distance to Here, one sees this simply means that Kowalczyk’s songwriting yearnings involve a relationship with God.
Much of rock music’s history has seen songwriters and performers tackle temporal searches for earthly love within the framework of three chords and four minutes. Kowalczyk and, by extension, his longtime bandmates Chad Taylor (guitar), Patrick Dahlheimer (bass), and Chad Gracey (drums) again deliver a set of songs that chronicle the inner churnings of a pilgrim searching for things eternal.
[pullquote] Live’s music does usually requires the listener to be aware beforehand that Kowalczyk’s addressee is his God.
Realizing Kowalczyk’s quest, though, it’s evident a song like Sun, Run to the Water, or Meltdown has its roots in a soul’s search for a deeper relationship with his God. When he has the ability to poke fun at his old persona with the line, “You got a serious side to you that could give the whole world a frown” in Voodoo Lady, one realizes a maturing songsmith and human being is revealed.
Kowalczyk admitted in a late 1999 interview, “I’ve always been into asking the big questions.”
People interested in those same big questions will find a rich harvest in Live’s latest album. Wilfred Langmaid is Anglican chaplain of the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, and music critic for the Fredericton Gleaner.