Monday, September 16, 2013

Paul Clark - Hand To The Plow album - #50 all time CCM 500 Best Album list

50. Hand to the Plow – Paul Clark


YouTube: Hand To The Plow song

Paul Clark

When conversation inevitably move to discussions revolving 
around the formation of CCM and the Jesus Movements 
“Jesus Music” world, many names take center stage. 
Larry Norman, Barry McGuire, Annie Herring and Randy Stonehill 
tend to be the focal point of conversations with the list of 
artists that were birthed at Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa
like Love Songs, Mustard Seed Faith and Daniel Amos.

But when conversing with the artists mentioned above, 
the name most often brought up is that of musician extraordinaire, 
Paul Clark. Noted as one of the finest (possibly the finest) 
songwriter of the time and a world class musician of his own, 
Clark was instrumental in bring CCM to a whole new level of 
quality and acceptance.

After four very well received and reviewed projects, 
Clark nearly single-handedly raised the bar to a whole 
new stratosphere with “Hand to the Plow.” Putting down 
his acoustic guitar and worship framed lyrical and musical
focus, Clark joined forces with some of the finest musicians
 to ever grace a CCM project and invented the first real 
“classic rock” Christian album.

Seven minute jams featuring precise piano, swinging sax and 
grooving guitars, the album is brilliant from the opening piano 
interlude to the fading final string note. While the rest of the 
Jesus Music world was still peddling relatively safe and “dated” 
country rock and folk, Clark was piercing the speakers with 
R&B/Soul rhythms and progressive rock prowess 
unforeseen at time.

From the grainy cover of a wrinkled, weathered and worn 
hand of old man grasping a wooden plow to the stellar 
production quality, there is very little that was not groundbreaking. 
Clark’s voice was never this edgy or passionate in his 
previous releases. There is more Moody Blues, Pink Floyd 
and Steely Dan here than in the rest of CCM at the time combined.

Even listening to this album as I write this review I am in 
awe of just how much I feel like I am listening to any other 
classic rock album of note during the same time period. 
Bobby Cotton’s production is so rich and textured and 
the songs are not watered down for Sunday Morning 
consumption. This was real, contemporary and utterly 
relevant; well before those words lost their meaning in 
the modern Church movement.

The album features what would later become the bedrock 
of the amazing jazz group, Koinonia. Hadley Hockensmith, 
Harlan Rogers and Bill Maxwell were joined by unheralded 
and uber-guitarist Curt Bartlett. But it would be Jim Hochanadel’s 
amazing saxophone work that would stick with listeners 
over three decades later.

The album kicks off with the seven minute title track that 
simply rocks. It would easily rank among the great Christian 
classic rock tunes if there were any that were even in its 
category. Borrowing from the Biblical image of the need to 
keep moving forward in our work for the Lord and not 
looking back to our former lives, Clark pounds his way 
through this epic. Here the guitar and saxophone work 
simply steal the show. But it is all based around Clark’s 
killer piano work.

Before this time the thought of an seven minute epic rock 
song that featured more instrumental time than lyrical time 
was simply unheard of. This was entering into the domain 
of bands like the Moody Blues and even the Allman Brothers 
with long instrumental breaks and, for lack of a better term , 
“jamming.” This was done live by the likes of Phil Keaggy, 
but was a real rarity on a studio recording. Clark’s ability to 
keep the musical interest with such a long instrumental song 
(especially to lead the album) is proof of his musical genius 
and great songwriting and arranging.

Things slow down immediately with the classical guitar tinged, 
“Spring of Life.” nearly liturgical in its feel and arrangement, 
this beautiful songs works as a perfect interlude between the
 two rock numbers that make up two of the first three songs 
on the project. This style would soon become the centerpiece 
musical expressions for artists like John Michael and terry Talbot.

“All I Need” is pure Jazz/R&B genius. The funk driven female 
backing vocals would sound like Riki Michelle of Adam Again 
20 years before. In fact, every listen to this song reminds me of 
just how much Gene Eugene was influenced by the same music 
that Clark delivers here. Everything from the funky keyboard 
rhythm (think early Stevie Wonder) and great Hammond 
organ solo to the funky guitar solo and thumping bass are 
pure funk/soul magic.

Another brilliant and more progressive rock sounding classic 
is “Shipwrecked.” Introduced by a beautiful orchestral arrangement, 
the song soon moves into something akin to the best from 
Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” Slow and passionate 
like “Comfortably Numb,” Clark’s strong higher register is 
accompanied by, of all things, the harmonica. what would 
seem out of place, works perfectly here as the song turn 
more inspirational than dirge-like.

The smooth jazz many remember Clark for is most evident 
on “Love You So.” Clark’s voice rangers from a Phil Keaggy 
quality to almost a Stephen Bishop quality. The organ again 
finds itself the central driving force to this beautiful ballad 
before the amazing sax work takes center stage as the more 
jazz influence is delivered.

“Help Me to See” would have fit on any Glass Harp album 
and is the most Keaggy-like on the project. The song is a 
slow build rocker that features some of the finer blues-influenced 
guitar solo work for the time. Moody and darker than most 
CCM at the time, the song is a Psalmists plea for direction 
and security.

Before the world of CCM discovered that automatic radio 
airplay that “wedding songs” provided an artist, Paul Clark 
wrote one of the finest wedding songs ever written. Ever.

The medley, “Woman…The Man That I Love” is six minutes
 long and features two separate songs that are merged to 
create a cohesive single expression. The duet, sung with 
Kelly Willard, is written from the perspective of both the 
woman and the man as the song changes musical expressions 
as each sings their glorious parts. The songs do blend in the 
final chorus as both sing simultaneously this stunning song.

“Now and Forevermore” shows Clark’s growth in the use 
of orchestral arrangements. here, not only does the orchestra 
support the melody, it carries the entire song. More classical 
than most ballads, the song is a worshipful reminder for 
communion and an expression of the covenantal faithfulness 
of God that is remembered in the sacrament.

The album closes with “One Final Word,” introduced with a 
harp and orchestra. the sound would later be more consistently 
applied by the like of Jeff Johnson.

This is as nearly flawless an album as any from the Jesus Music 
era. It is also gives reason why many of Clark’s peers hold 
him in such high regard. Not constrained to the parameters 
of common Jesus Music or CCM at the time, Clark’s innovative 
and original musical expressions made him a favorite among 
fans and artists.

He, for some reason, never received the long-term recognition 
he so richly deserved, as this album plainly presents. If there is 
an expression greater than “An Album You Should Own,” 
this album would deserve that classification. Though other 
Jesus Music albums will be ranked higher based on historical 
significance, very few can compete with this album.

Paul Clark - 2009

Click here for more: CCM 500 Best Albums All-Time

Paul Clark (Christian musician)

  • Songs from the Savior, Vol. 1 1972
  • Songs from the Savior, Vol. 2 1972
  • Come Into His Presence (Paul Clark and Friends) 1974
  • Good To Be Home (Paul Clark and Friends) 1975
  • Hand to the Plow 1976
  • Change in the Wind 1978
  • Aim for the Heart 1980
  • New Horizon 1981
  • Drawn to the Light 1982
  • Out of the Shadow 1983
  • Awakening from the Western Dream 1988
  • When the Moon is Behind the Clouds 1992
  • Private World 1995
  • Resonate 1996
  • Christmas 1998
  • Call of the Canyon 2001
  • Approaching Jerusalem 2009
  • "The Shorter The Trailer The Longer The Road" or "Songs From The Trailer VOL.IV" 2012

Click here: Paul Clark's website

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Thanks for sharing. Blessings on your head from the Lord Jesus, Yeshua HaMashiach.

Steve Martin
Love For His People
Charlotte, NC USA