"Petra: Farewell" album review
By Josh Renaud
Listening to "Petra: Farewell," fans are more likely to bang their heads than wave goodbye because this swan song rocks hard.
"Petra: Farewell" was recorded live in Franklin, Tenn. in October. I was in the audience. I also saw the band perform a few weeks later in Kansas City. Without a doubt, this album is a great representation of the Farewell tour.
It is driven by loud, bold guitar riffs from axemaster Bob Hartman and excellent vocal performances from John Schlitt. I've seen many incarnations of Petra in concert over the years, and nobody has ever been able to replace Bob. This album is his showcase. As for John, he is near-flawless here. There is no hint of strain in his voice, which I have heard in years past.
The song choices are quite intelligent. The album represents a pretty wide swath of Petra's catalog and manages to include songs fans haven't heard live in years. And though there are no keyboards (except on the two songs featuring John Lawry), Bob has found creative ways to fill in the gaps on older songs. The only song where I even noticed the keyboards missing was "Creed."
The icing on this album, though, are the medleys and the guest appearances. Medleys are a somewhat necessary evil in the case of a band like Petra which has so many hits. There's no way to cram 24 complete songs plus 2 solos onto a regular CD. But by compressing some of the songs into medleys, you can get 24 songs represented on the album. Petra pulls off the medleys very well. In fact, they are beautiful; a verse and chorus from each song are fused together by seamless transitions.
The rock medley features some classics fans haven't enjoyed in concert for a long time: "Sight Unseen," "I am on the Rock," and "Mine Field." It's also cool to hear Greg Bailey and Paul Simmons contribute that "band harmony" that was a staple of the 80s Petra albums.
But it's the acoustic set that really stands out for me. Greg Bailey's cello makes these songs shine with gravitas and elegance. And of course, there's the other Greg: Greg X. Volz, who reunites with Petra for the first time since 1985. Like Schlitt, Volz's voice seems flawless. It's a treat to hear him soar on classics like "Rose-Colored Stained Glass Windows" and "Road to Zion." Then to hear him and John Schlitt trading the spotlight as they go through "For Annie," "No Doubt," "The Coloring Song," and "Love" is mind-blowing. John has said in the past he could never envision performing with Petra on the same stage with Greg because there would be competition. That's not the case on this album. They yield to one another and it's going to move listeners.
Volz gets one "complete" song -- Graverobber. It's a good choice, since the song has such powerful lyrics and it's "his" song (John Schlitt rarely sings this one, though he does tackle other Volz-era songs like "Rose-Colored...").
Graverobber also reintroduces former Petra keyboardist John Lawry. He contributes to that song as well as "Beyond Belief." The keyboards are somewhat prominent on "Graverobber" but they are pretty much relegated to the background on "Beyond Belief." But Lawry does get to have a great keyboard solo featuring an updated take on his famous "Jesus Loves You" song. The version of the solo included on this album is unfortunately shorter than what he did in concert. Hopefully the DVD will feature the portions that were trimmed here.
Bob gets a solo, as well. There's almost no point commenting on it -- it rocks. What else would you expect? Some day Bob should go "Phil Keaggy" on us and just record an album's worth of instrumental guitar music.
The album closes with "He Came, He Saw, He Conquered," which is another intelligent and heart-felt choice. It puts the focus where it should be, on Jesus Christ and his triumph. As much as we will remember Petra for the music, it's more important to remember who they were singing about. And "He Came..." makes such clear statements about Christ, it's impossible to miss the message.
In the end, that's what Petra was always about.
Postscript: the nits
I love this album. Let me just make that plain. I have a few quibbles, but they are minor things.
My main disappointment is the drums. I was at the recording, and I remember being so impressed by Paul Simmons' ability and his showmanship. The drums on the album are not as crisp, clear, and authoritative as I remember them. There are some moments when they really come through, like the intro to "Right Place." But the guitar is obviously the driving force of this album. I wish the drums had been more prominent in the mix.
I also wish there was a bit more "chatter." Since I was at the show and I also have a rough mix of the album, I know there is a lot of band talk that was edited out. Obviously that makes the album move faster and keeps it short enough to fit on one CD. But I think it detracts a bit from the "live"-ness. One exception is at the very end of the album, where they actually added chatter: John Schlitt saying thank you for 33 years of ministry, which I am fairly certain was recorded in the studio.
Finally, a note about missing songs. Petra performed several songs at the taping that were cut from the album. These include "Lord I Lift Your Name on High," "Judas' Kiss," and "C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N." The omission of the first two doesn't bother me that much, but I really wish they had included the latter song as a hidden track. It would have been a nice surprise for folks, and it also would have been the only "new" Petra song on the album.
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