On a recent ride home from Tampa, I listened to this disc for the first time in awhile. I was reminded why I enjoyed it so much for such a long time.
If I recall correctly, Drowning with Land in Sight was the 77’s first release on Word, a “major” label. It remains one of their most accessible releases. This is odd since Gene Eugene and Ojo Taylor, though innovative and interesting musicians in their own right, weren’t exactly mainstream. The 77’s struggled to maintain artistic integrity and the demands of the “mainstream” Christian music industry. Derek Webb is currently fighting a bigger, uglier fight with his label. But enough of that…
The album starts off with a cover of Nobody’s Fault But Mine, to set the pace for this series of songs lamenting our role in all that is wrong in our world. They do a very good job with this old blues standard, dragging it into the 90’s (the album was released in 1994). This hard rocking beginning continues through Snowblind and Snake. Snake was a major concession, with Mike Roe commenting on not liking the song in some live gigs captured on CD (It’s For You– which is great, simple record of his solo tour). The first is also something of a lament about how temptation blinds us. The second is about one of the sources of temptation. While I enjoy the music, Snake is not one of Mike’s better lyrical and vocal performances.
Indian Winter marks a shift in direction for the album. The chorus is slower, and there seem to be glimmers of hope. There is some very nice guitar work during the solo. The songs that follow are not quite as full-bore hard rock, but have a bit more space and deal mostly with relationships, and how sin and selfishness destroy them. Film at 11 contains some of my favorite lyrics by Mike. They are filled with longing and disappointment.
Mezzo is a guitar-focused instrumental that has hints of surf rock among the layers. An enjoyable, sad-tinged song. Cold, Cold Night adds a bit more distortion, biting guitar licks and relational despair. Mike Roe hits his stride. Dave’s Blues returns to the theme of our guilt, moral confusion, and hope in the Savior. Doesn’t hurt that it has some very good guitar work.
Sounds o’ Autumn is drummer Aaron Smith’s time to shine. It is a subtle solo piece rather than over the top and bombastic. It provides a short breather before the last 3 songs.
The Jig is Up is one of my favorite songs, a lament about a troubled man who walks alone. When this album came out, I could identify with this song as I slogged through a very lengthy, difficult time. This sad song gave me opportunity to grieve. Alone Together is another of those haunting songs Mike Roe writes so well. It is about the end of a relationship set in contrast with the great beginning. It is strange how little things can add up, destroying good things unexpectedly- the slow drift…
The album ends with For Crying Out Loud, about looking for hope and help in the One above. It is also about being honest with God, finally. So ends of my favorite albums- one filled with great guitar work, honest, painful at times lyrics, and emotional openness. How did they get this released on Word? I’m glad they did.