Release Date: July 7th 2017
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Let the Day Begin
- Pride (In the Name of Love)
- Gotta Serve Somebody
- Righteous Rocker
- Red Letters
- Gotta Serve Somebody (RockN Roll Mix)
‘…this is my third covers project. I made a covers album back in mid-2000s called The Blood. That was a full album of gospel and blues covers. Then I did a record just two years ago called Starry Eyes Surprise. That’s a full album of 80s songs, classic crooner songs. I like to mix it up. I’ve got so much original music happening right now in my own studio that I’ve written the past two years, I could release four or five different albums right now, but I just have to pace myself. I go off of what I’m feeling like in the moment…’ Kevin Max needs no introduction. Everyone who is a CCM fan, or a fan of music in general, would know Kevin, or at least be familiar with his distinctive voice. 1/3 of DC Talk (who are still on indefinite hiatus, even now after 17 years), we have seen Kevin have a unique, colourful and diverse solo career, delivering to us a variety of material, from original material, to CCM/radio songs as well as having a stint as the lead singer of the revived Audio Adrenaline for a while, before traveling solo again to release his most recent album Broken Temples in 2015. Now two years later, Kevin has unveiled to us another project that is different yet again compared to much of what he has released before in his musical catalogue- Serve Somebody is indeed a covers project, but rather just covers of mainstream songs with just a good beat and some likeable lyrics with a quasi-message that can be seen in a variety of different ways, depending on your worldview; this new project from Kevin is a collection of songs that have charted well on mainstream radio, yet these tracks have some sort of spiritual element/slant to them, even if the songwriters were ‘religious’ or weren’t. God can still impact, encourage and challenge us through whatever music medium (yes, even songs popular on mainstream radio can still encourage us in our walk with Him!), and thus, Serve Somebody is an EP full of these wonderful and awe-inspiring moments, where we realise that there’s a world of music outside our Christian bubbles, music that is indeed created by God also to have the power of healing and hope, as we hear songs like ‘Creed’ (Rich Mullins), ‘Pride (In the Name of Love)’ (U2), ‘Kyrie’ (Mister, Mister) and ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ (Bob Dylan), among many more, delivered by Kevin in such a powerful and confident manner, staying true to the original recordings from the original artists, while also placing his own ‘Kevin Max’ spin on these songs, making them their own in a project that is by far one of my favourite covers albums/EP’s I’ve heard since In the Name of Love: Artists United For Africa (an album full of U2 covers by artists within the CCM industry).
‘…when we did “Serve Somebody,” Dan Pitts from True Artists was like, “Man, you’re getting on this boat. What if you made an album of some of the songs that you like to play live and put it together?” Then we started talking about, “How about an album of spiritual songs that are relatable to rock ‘n roll?” That’s kind-of how we came up with a small list of songs that, in my opinion, were a perfect balance between spirituality and rock ‘n roll. We had tons of songs we could choose from, but I didn’t have a whole lot of time to record these. That’s why we were a little limited on the amount of songs on there. I had several chosen that we never did. I had a David Bowie song called “Word On A Wing.” I wanted to do a Leonard Cohen song. I wanted to do a Beatles song. I was actually looking at a Keith Green song. We just got down to the deadline and I was like, “Here are the ones that make the most sense to me right now.” …’ Kevin Max has managed to deliver to us something that hasn’t really been done before. Present a collection of songs that are spiritual and rock at the same time- songs that have charted primarily within the mainstream industry but have always had a spiritual element to it. And while this album may not necessarily be a favourite for anyone who is an avid fan of either Air1 or K-Love (think of this album by Kevin as an education lesson, albeit a short one- ‘mainstream’ songs from the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and now that have been instrumental in his own life and now sharing it to the world in the form of a 8 song EP… well 7 if you discount the alternate mix of Bob Dylan’s ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’), Serve Somebody is a necessary release. Kevin tries his hand at a variety of music, some more popular than others.
Songs like ‘Let the Day Begin’ (The Call), ‘Righteous Rocker’ (Larry Norman) and even ‘Red Letters’ (DC Talk) are songs that even I haven’t heard before until Kevin’s recording of it (yes, I have not heard ‘Red Letters’ prior to this), which goes to show, that there are still some great songs out there that we all need to hear, even if it means to be outside of our comfort zone and ‘culture up’ a little bit. Then again, I haven’t really grown up in the era prior to the 1990s so songs prior to then I haven’t really listened to much. Nevertheless, Kevin’s voice, passion and enthusiasm makes these songs ever the more enjoyable, that maybe, just maybe, I’ll check out the original recordings. Especially a song like ‘Righteous Rocker’ where he covers Larry Norman, and speaks about how we can all be righteous ‘rockers’ if you will, be as good as what we can be at what we do, but if we don’t have love, then we are nothing. Sort of a similar theme to ‘Proof of Your Love’ by for KING AND COUNTRY, but for old-school listeners of music. ‘Let The Day Begin’ encourages us to embrace each new day as an opportunity to start afresh and to seek out new challenges, while ‘Red Letters’ is a track that focuses on Jesus and His ministry, and what it’ll look like if we really took what Jesus spoke to heart, and if we really let it transform and impact our lives as we know it should!
If you can remember way back, a whole bunch of CCM artists collaborated on a U2 covers album titled In the Name of Love: Artists United for Africa in 2004, with Delirious? lending their hand in covering ‘Pride (In the Name of Love)’. Now 13 years later, we see Kevin Max cover ‘Pride’ again. Which rendition is better in my opinion? They’re both different, and Kevin at times sounds a lot like Bono in the song. Which is good, as I myself am impressed at how Kevin can create such an aura and passion in every song he creates. ‘Pride’ is no different, as we are called to action in this track to present a front of love for all humanity, to abandon our own pride like how Jesus Himself humbled Himself even to death, so we can be made right with God again. I first heard Bob Dylan’s ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’ as a cover on Nichole Nordeman’s Brave, and that version was a pop-acoustic-electronic moment with Nichole’s trademark ethereal vocals. While both these two renditions by Kevin are much more guitar presence heavy, the emotive nature and poignancy that was once found in the original is still present here, and along with Kevin’s vocals and a rock atmosphere, the message is ever the more relatable in this culture. The piano riffs are a nice touch, as is the heavy moment of realisation, that ‘…it may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you gonna have to serve somebody…’
‘Kyrie’ is a song by 1980s group Mister, Mister, and while I myself have heard nothing about the band, I have indeed heard the song, many a time through listening to the version of the track by Mark Schultz on his album Song Cinema. Since hearing the song then, and Kevin’s re imagining now, I can safely say that this track is as much a worship song as others, even though I reckon Mister Mister wasn’t even a band that had any inkling of anything spiritual. Nevertheless, the song, especially the translation of the words ‘kyrie elision’ meaning ‘Lord have mercy’, is a reminder for us all, for us to pray that God gives us mercy and favour in the roads that we travel. Indeed He does that regardless of whether we ask Him or not, still, ‘Kyrie’ is timely as it is relevant in such a culture as this.
And then there’s ‘Creed’. Yes, ‘Creed’, originally recorded by the late Rich Mullins who was indeed famous for songs like ‘Awesome God’, ‘Sing Your Praise to the Lord’, ‘I See You’ and ‘Sometimes by Step’. With the song being by far one of my favourites songs of all time, we have been given a glimpse into how a song can be as impacting and heartfelt even after the passing of the artist. Rich died in 1997, and 20 years on, it seems only fitting for Kevin to record his own version of ‘Creed’- just as powerful and heartfelt. Even though I reckon the artist to beat is Third Day (their version of ‘Creed’ is by far my favourite, especially the video version with Brandon Heath), Kevin’s comes real close. ‘Creed’, alongside ‘Kyrie’ and ‘Pride’, are definite standouts for me on the EP, and while I would’ve wanted some other songs to round out the EP and make it a full-length album (maybe songs like ‘Africa’ by Toto, ‘Your Love Broke Through’ by Keith Green, ‘Every Step You Take’ by The Police, ‘Secret Ambition’ by Michael W. Smith or even ‘The Living Years’ by Mike and the Mechanics…or are they reserved for a SERVE SOMEBODY Vol 2?), this 8 track EP should soothe our longings of songs from yesteryear, from an artist that is as underappreciated as they are relevant in such a Christian music industry as this!
While all of these songs were written eons ago, all these tracks seem to have a Kevin Max trademark sound, and reminds us all that Kevin still has a lot to offer musically and lyrically in years to come. These songs within Serve Somebody are timeless, and here’s hoping that there’s another covers project in the works of other mainstream and CCM tracks over the years that have impacted the hearts and minds of many around the world. Songs can have an impact years and years after they are written, and if you think of what classifies as a timeless song, think of ‘Friends’, ‘Jesus Freak’, ‘The Great Adventure’, ‘Testify To Love’ and ‘Lead Me On’, and those are your examples of timeless songs. While the drawback is that the EP is a tad too short, Kevin nevertheless does each of the songs justice as we have a glimpse into perhaps one of the most relevant releases of the year, but also the most different, divisive and diverse offerings of Kevin to date! Many who champion Christian music only will stay away from this release, and that is their opinion. But at the end of the day, God can speak through anything, even mainstream songs. Kudos to Kevin for such a powerful collection of songs, here’s hoping for more renditions like these in the future!
3 songs to listen to: Pride, Kyrie, Creed
RIYL: downhere, DC Talk, U2, Rich Mullins, Delirious?, Audio Adrenaline