By Andrew Rockwell -
Servant, similar to Chicago’s Resurrection Band, can trace its beginnings back to the Jesus Movement of the late sixties and seventies. Future Servant members Owen & Sandie Brock and Matt Spransy were brought together for the first time by the European evangelistic rock musical of the early seventies entitled Lonesome Stone. Once Lonesome Stone came to an end by 1974, however, Owen & Sandie moved to Victoria, British Columbia where the line up to the band – initially using the name Higher Ground – came together over the next several years. Canadian guitarist Bruce Wright was the first to sign up, while bassist Rob Martens, who had several chance meetings with Wright at a Greyhound bus depot and a guitar shop, joined the band – now officially renamed Servant – in early 1977. When drummer David Holmes caught a performance of Servant at its coffee shop, the Upper Room drop in center, he immediately offered his services to the group (which was using a conga player at the time). Lead vocalist Bob Hardy became a Christian after Wright shared his faith with him and subsequently rounded out the bands line up in late 1977.
On a side note, it is worth pointing out that when keyboardist and computer wiz Matt Spransy returned from Europe, he formed a Joliet, Illinois based progressive rock band also called Servant (often referred to as Joliet-Servant) with Doug Pinnick of King’s X fame. After Joliet-Servant disbanded in 1980, Spransy saw Servant perform live in Chicago and later donated his truck and all his music and sound equipment to the band. Spransy eventually joined Servant in the summer of 1981 but not in time to record Shallow Water.
With its line up set, Servant began playing live extensively, polishing its skills by performing at Christian coffee houses and colleges, parks and bars and other secular venues. At around this time an intentional community, The Highway Missionary Society, started to emerge which also included members of the band. The community, in the words of Owen Brock, “would become foundational as our lifestyles and music reflected our shared beliefs about the world, the church, God’s kingdom, Christian community and compassion and justice for the poor.” Servant (and the community) eventually relocated to Grant’s Pass, Oregon in April of 1979 and, after becoming the first band to sign with the fledgling Tunesmith label, released its debut Shallow Water the very same year.
What Servant brings to the table on Shallow Water is slightly dated classic rock with a hard rock edge, creating a sound that, while not as heavy as contemporaries such as Resurrection Band, Barnabas and Daniel Band, delivers more than enough upfront guitar driven momentum. The album stands out with its versatility, delivering several energetic hard rockers (“Jesus Star” and “Fly Away”), a heavy blues based number (“Holy Roller Blues”), a ballad (“Cup Of Water”) and a hard rock anthem (“Water Grave”). And that versatility keeps the album not only an interesting one but a consistent one as well in that it smoothly flows from one song to the next while including no filler tracks.
Servant features two lead vocalists of equal ability: Bob Hardy contributes a clean, classic tenor voice, while Sandie Brock brings a soulful but raspy vocal delivery. Bruce Wright proves a more than above average talent on lead guitar (check out his work on “Holy Roller Blues”) in addition to being a creative force in the songwriting department. Drummer David Holmes and bassist Rob Martens form a tight sounding rhythm section, while Owen Brock rounds out the mix on rhythm guitar.
As one would expect, the production values here are on the thin side. That being said, the album was recorded on a small Christian label using late seventies technology- so it only makes sense to cut the band a bit of slack. It is also worth pointing out that Shallow Water was engineered by Bob Rock- who went on to work with the likes of Metallic, Motley Crue and Ski Row.
I would also like to commend Servant not only on the quality of its lyrics but the content as well, the albums compositions combining the need for salvation with strong and at time biting social commentary.
Originally released in only the vinyl and cassette formats, Shallow Water was digitally re-mastered and re-issued on CD in 2006 by Retroactive Records. Extensive liner notes – including a detailed band history written by founding member Owen Brock – were included along with several never before seen photos of the band.
The albums title track begins to a minute of dialogue between the members of the band that gives way to the sound of waves washing upon the shore and an open air rhythm guitar. “Shallow Water” proceeds to take off at a hard rocking upbeat tempo, Sandie putting the bands trademark biting – if not sarcastic – social commentary on display upon reaching its first verse with her raspy vocal delivery:
Well I’m sittin’ by the TV and I think I might hit the sack
Life is pretty easy when you’re just kickin’ back
I’ve heard about the starving millions, I got my TV and radio
I know many are called, and I don’t like to stall, but I’m much too busy to go
The song proceeds to gain further momentum upon reaching a chorus that only serves to reinforce the bands message about waking up to the worlds needs:
I’m walking on shallow water, there’s no depth to what I do
If I try to go deeper I might disappear and I’ve got too much to lose
My overall feeling? Great song and the point is well taken but, guys, don’t you think you are being a tad bit heavy handed here? The band effectively sums things up during the songs third and final verse:
Now Jesus called to Peter, He said “come take a walk on the sea
Leave your fears in the boat and you will float, just put your trust in me
“Rich Man”, a track originally penned by Sammy Hagar but first recorded by Montrose on its 1976 album Jump On It, is a very nice though somewhat laid back number in which drummer David Holmes handles lead vocal duties with his smooth sounding voice. The song slowly moves through it verse portions prior to attaining a fleeting but catchy chorus backed by a touch of acoustic guitar. “Rich Man” is aptly named:
All the sliver’s been varnished, the linen’s white as snow
I’m hiding in the library no one ever goes
And I’m thinking about the wealth in this big old house around me
You know I feel so ashamed and poor because the Spirit hasn’t found me
If I could lend someone a hand I’d be a rich man…
The upbeat hard rocker “Here Comes David” is carried through its first and second verse to an effective blend of rhythm guitar and organ. Following an instrumental section in which Bruce Wright showcases his abilities on lead guitar, the song briefly stops dead in its tracks for its third verse before closing out its final several seconds in good bluesy fashion. The subject matter here is self-explanatory:
Well, way back long about 1400 and BC
Just after Moses had parted the Red Sea
The children of Israel were travelin’ light
They were carrying the ark way on into the night
The Lord had places for them to go
And He didn’t have time to stop the show
“Rejoice” was written by Joe Grier and David Eden of “E” band (that featured future Petra vocalist Greg X. Volz) who originally recorded the song for the early seventies compilation Because I Am. An acoustic guitar stands in support of Bob Hardy’s classic tenor voice during the first and second verse to “Rejoice’. Abruptly picking up in pace as the rhythm guitar enters the mix, Sandie takes over on lead vocals and helps take the song in acoustic laced fashion to a chorus with a simple but straightforward salvation message:
For you He has paid the price
For you He was sacrificed
The song goes on to take on an almost worshipful tone as Sandie sings acapella with only the drums standing in support:
Rejoice…lift your hands and praise the Lord
Rejoice…Clap your hands and praise the Lord
Rejoice…He loves you so He died for you
The album returns to its hard rocking ways with “Jesus Star”. Things get going to the voice of a DJ as “Jesus Star” gradually builds momentum, a near perfect blend of keyboards and bass guitar pushing the song forward until the rhythm guitar takes over at the start of its first verse. Tapering off, “Jesus Star” attains a sweeping chorus that starts in laid back fashion only to gain impetus at its end. “Jesus Star” finds Servant delivering more biting social commentary by, in the bands own words from the liner notes in the recently re-issued CD, “taking a concerned swipe at the luxury of the Christian star making machinery being utilized to promote the simple teachings of Jesus”:
I’m a superstar for Jesus and my day begins at dawn
My time is in demand and my book is going strong
Well, I used to be a nasty, t’was a bad dude in my day
Y’know the press, they love my story
Who says crime don’t pay, no way
I think it is worth taking a closer look at several more lines in the song (please keep in mind that the band is using a great deal of irony to drive its point home):
Oh they need influential people to get the gospel sold
Now there’s fame in my name, and they can use that, use that, on the show
I’m a universal Jesus star and I’m really doing well
Ya know the gospel’s just too hard to take and without me it won’t sell
What else can you say except that Servant was definitely way ahead of its time here…
The album hits its stride upon reaching its excellent second half.
“Water Grave”, a hard rock anthem composted by Steve Chapman (not to be confused with CCM artist Steven Curtis Chapman) and originally recorded by Dogwood and eventually The Imperials, is by far the albums strongest track. The song opens strongly to an authoritative riff underscored by pounding drums before slowing to a quietly played guitar line for its first verse. Building momentum throughout its second verse, “Water Grave” culminates for an emotionally charged chorus with huge catchy hook. “Water Grave” talks about exactly that:
Now in my house there’s been a mercy killing
The man I used to be’s been crucified
And the death of this man is the final way of revealing
In a spiritual way to live I had to die
This song is so good that to this day it still sends shivers down my spine whenever I hear it. It would be great to hear a current metal/hard rock artist such as Narnia, Theocracy or Rob Rock do a cover of “Water Grave”.
Sandie handles lead vocal duties on “Cup Of Water”, a five minute ballad that slowly moves through its verse portions before the rhythm guitar steps forward in time to fortify an extensive chorus with a no-nonsense message:
Give a cup of water in the name of the Lord
We need to give away all the things that we have stored
Too much time spent thinking of ourselves
When all around us people crying out for help
In the end, “Cup Of Water’, like many of the albums tracks, presents a challenge to wake up to the worlds needs:
Poverty surrounds us and we know it’s here to stay
After all what can we do they live so far away
Hungry little children they’ve got their hands outstretched
Begging for a piece of bread when will their needs be met
Bruce Wright lends his talents on both lead guitar and vocals on the blues based hard rocker “Holy Roller Blues”. After a blend of edgy rhythm guitar and bluesy lead guitar helps convey the song through its first and second verse, Wright steps forward and graces the scene with more of his razor sharp lead guitar work. During its third and final verse, “Holy Roller Blues” delivers a message that can be interpreted as being humorous but serious at the same time:
Ya know they call me a “Jesus freak”, yes and I do believe, do believe, its true
Yea, they call me a “Jesus freak” and I do believe, believe it’s true, yes I do
At this point the song closes as Wright asks over an open air rhythm guitar:
I want to ask you one last question before I go…
I said I really want to know
I said I really want to know
Whose freak are you?
“Fly Away” closes the album in a good upbeat and hard rocking manner. Introduced to a bit of screaming guitar feedback, the song takes off to a brief keyboard solo before a touch of backing vocals stands in support of Sandie during its first and second verse. The chorus that follows is carried in a catchy and non-stop hook filled fashion.
My final thoughts? I feel it is important to put things in proper perspective and give credit where credit it due. Yes, the music sounds somewhat dated and the production is a bit rough around the edges. That being said, Shallow Water proves quite the consistent listen in that all nine of its tracks hold up under repeated play. While “Water Grave” is by far the albums strongest compositions, other hard rockers such as “Shallow Water”, “Jesus Star”, “Fly Away” and “Holy Roller Blues” hold up equally well. “Cup Of Water” stands out not only for the strength of its music by lyrics as well.
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Shallow Water” (5:02), “Rich Man” (3:39), “Here Comes David” (3:36), “Rejoice” (4:24), “Jesus Star” (3:36), “Water Grave” (4:51), “Cup Of Water” (4:53), “Holy Roller Blues” (3:33), “Fly Away” (3:52)
Sandie Brock – Lead Vocals
Bob Hardy – Lead Vocals
Bruce Wright – Guitars & Vocals
Owen Brock – Guitars
Rob Martens – Bass
David Holmes – Drums & Vocals
Robbie King – Organ