While listening to this new CD by guitarist/singer-songwriter Marcus Eaton, I recalled a kind of debate, if you will, overheard amongst music fans. And that is what has been mentioned by music lovers who have encountered spiritual-based, or Christian, music mixed in with their normal rock and roll listening diet is why the music in question is easily identifiable as Christian. While never really understanding what the negative aspect of that connotation was, after listening to a decent amount of Christian rock and other forms of contemporary Christian and spiritual music I knew what they were talking about.Whenever coming across something intended to be “Christian rock” it was always easy to tell the music was geared to Christians and, surprisingly, often way before any telling lyric was heard. Something in the production, maybe the sound of the guitar or the drums, seemed to always seem very rock…”lite” as if the balls were left out of the music, as if the producers and musicians wanted to create some real rock, but felt if they did, the negative aspects of secular hard rock would be exposed to the listener or something. Christian rock music is made for many reasons, but a key component of its’ creation is that it is made for listeners who feel regular rock and roll has too many negative images and lyrics, so these Christian audiences who still want to enjoy harder and edgier music will have something to listen to which falls more into line with their beliefs and moral codes. In essence, the goal is to make the music as hard edge as possible, but with toned down lyrics.
When listening to Eaton’s new CD, you can throw any and all of those issues out of the window and enjoy the music purely for what it is – great rock and roll covering many sub-genres and shades. For one thing, Eaton has not stated anywhere on the album or in the press accompanying it that he is (or wants to be known as) a “Christian” artist. Though it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon (or a brain scientist) to tell Eaton is a spiritual man, the music is most definitely contemporary in every respect and is meaningful and hearftfelt most of the time yet rocking when it needs to be and always enthralling and interesting. It’s obvious Eaton knows how to craft a great album, as well he should as he’s been a professional a long time. Signed by a division of MCA/Universal in 2002, Eaton and his band made his hometown of Pocatello, Idaho, proud and has been recording prolifically ever since.
Life In Reverse, the first song, opens up the album with a driving beat and a great immediacy. It’s a great choice to begin the CD as the beat and intense acoustic guitar work serve as an resounding announcement of Eaton’s poignant but upbeat lyrics. Great drumming on the track as well by Kevin Rogers, who adds a lot to the song during the ride-out where his furious tom-tom work brings the song to a higher level of intensity. The next song Dismantle The Machine has a slower groove, but the rhythm section keeps the song intense with Rogers’ furious drumming and Garrett Sayers’ exceptional bass work. Eaton’s guitar work on both of these cuts is captivating and makes one wonder why he hasn’t been featured more prominently in those guitar magazines you see in every grocery store. The song itself reminds me of something by The Police if they would have just come up to prominence in the past five years or so. Not lyrically, per se, as Eaton’s lyrics have a decidely Christina/spiritual bent to them but the music especially, as Eaton’s band seems as accomplished on their chosen axes as Sting and company were on theirs. At the end of the song the band adeptly morphs into a Rush-type sound – these guys are beyond skillful at their craft, to be sure. Eleven is next and finds Eaton and crew in ballad mode, with a sort of dreamy, ethereal sound featured on the song. As great of a guitarist as Eaton is (and he’s a monster), his vocal work is equally as good and he has a very commercial, contemporary vocal sound which would definitely sound good on the radio. Eaton’s production of the album is top-notch, as well, showing him to be quite adept in the studio as this release has up-to-the-second production, some of the finest work I’ve heard done by someone not on a major label. The Police-isms come back on the next song, What’s The Difference, as the song starts with a slick reggae beat reminiscent of the Police song Roxanne and has that band’s way with dynamics and tempo changes. The next cut, Dreams of Flying, has a totally different sound, which is a groovy, almost a jam-bandy sort of thing. Eaton’s vocals give it a sort of Maroon 5/John Mayer feel while the music is slick pop on the verses which morphs into a a Dave Matthews-type feel on the chorurses. Eaton’s deft acoustic work opens up the next song, Weightless, and the tempo combined with the guitar work, lyrics and production are a perfect match for the song’s title. Eaton has created the perfect musical bed for his song, a rare occurence of musical synergy which can be called nothing less than inspired. The next song is entitled Black Pearl which begins acoustically with Eaton’s intense vocals upfront as if he is singing directly to the listener. The rest of the band comes in on the chorus and then fades as the second verse begins, executing an excellent arrangement by their use of dynamics to draw the listener deep into the song. This would seem the logical choice for a single, as the song is very accessible and the spiritual imagery in the lyrics is a little buried. Astute listeners will notice, but your average pop fan will no doubt hear this on the radio and simply like the song for what it is on the surface. Who You Are comes next and has a slight Latino flavor to the rhythym and the guitar work, which borders on the flamenco, and sounds like one of the songs Santana would feature on his latest albums where he does nothing but riff over someone else’s song and play a solo here and there. In other words, it sounds better when Eaton and Co. do it themselves but compares favorably to something heard on pop radio over the past few years or so. Eaton burns on guitar on this cut, proving he is an absolute monster on guitar but knows how to use it properly and not wank all over the song itself. Eaton’s guitar rages on the intro to Over You, giving the song some of the hard rock oomph I have been waiting for since the album began. Though Eaton’s guitar work is great throughout I have been hoping he would burn and this is the song where he finally lets loose all of the heebie-jeebies and wails. Great stuff! The album finishes on this note as well as the final song You Can’t Close Your Eyes mines the same territory with some uptempo rock action and fiery guitar by Eaton.
While Eaton’s lryics are filled with allusions to the spiritual, please don’t feel you have to be a Christian or be in line with any one belief system to enjoy this album. While the CD is no doubt geared to a fanbase who would appreciate these sentiments, the musicianship is top notch and can be enjoyed for its’ own sake. Then again, I am wondering if the average Christian would appreciate or recognize how hip this album actually is, despite how much Christian music has caught up to contemporary music over the past decade or two. Either way, regardless of any beliefs one way or the other, guitar freaks and fans of modern rock are sure to enjoy this album as it features great vocal work, excellent band performances and Eaton’s frighteningly skillful guitar playing throughout. All that, plus production work that is top-notch spells a set of songs accessible to anyone, anywhere, anytime as far as I am concerned. Hopefully you will take a chance on the record – I doubt you would be disappointed. Believe that.