It seems like several bands and artists from the golden age of ‘Jesus Music’ have been jumping on the kick-starter bandwagon and picking up where they left off – some more successfully than others. On The Waiting is Over, their first project since 1984’s Perfect Timing, The Sweet Comfort Band doesn’t pick up from where they left off – instead, as The Beatles might say, they got back to where they once belonged. Where Perfect Timing had a big, pre-prog arena sound (thanks in part to the fine production work of Dino Elefante), The Waiting is Over has a more pure band sound that highlights the interplay of the musicians, the excellent songwriting, and the exquisite vocals. Horns and strings? Sure – they’re around where needed (and are wonderfully arranged by Bob Barrett), but the band is never up-staged.The album opens with the up-tempo, solid groove of “Lay It All On the Line,” featuring Bryan Duncan sounding as if the band never closed up shop, Randy Thomas delivering the most fiery (and the sweetest) guitar lines of his career, Rick Thomson as rock-steady as ever on drums, and Elijah Thomson (son of the late Kevin Thomson, the band’s original bassist) playing some of the most engaging, melodic bass I’ve heard onany recording this year. Tasty, jazzed-up horns punctuate the rhythm, the chorus has a great hook and Thomas’ solo on the bridge is Steely Dan-worthy. A powerhouse of an opener, if this track doesn’t have you bopping in the first thirty seconds, your bopper isbroken.A massive, heavy riff opens the more rocking second track, “Something Else is Going on Here,” a great follow-up to the opener with another strong hook, great lead vocals and infectious melody. It’s not all rock and funk, though – the mid-tempo soul of “Nothing Can Separate Us,” moderates the tone and gets seriously faith-filled with lyrics like, “I started praying cause I… coulda used better news / You can’t prepare yourself for times like these / Sometimes the truth can put you down on your knees” – words by men who have seen a lot more life in the last near-thirty years than they did when they first started out.
The balance of The Waiting is Over continues with the band re-establishing itself with strong songs ranging from lush, introspective ballads (the melodically-stunning “Then I Remember”) to outrageously funky work-outs (“Rock Steady” features chunky horns, clavinette, and Duncan’s best James Brown-ish shouting – the only thing missing is the other ‘self-righteous brother’ …come on, Bob Carlisle – we’re waiting!). The most commercial, CCM radio-ready track on the album is, in fact, the title track – a song that’s produced with all of the slickness and accessibility that it needs to appeal to a broad base of listeners. That it’s possibly the weakest track is, in a way, a good thing, since – even as a concession to ‘light’ radio – it’s still a finely-crafted song.
Other highlights of The Waiting is Over include “In the Light of Heaven,” the beautiful tribute to Kevin Thomson – the lyrics are poignant and vivid and Randy Thomas’ guitar phrasing is often Keaggy-like and stunningly beautiful on the closing vamp. The last track is an instrumental version of the gospel-tinged “All in God’s Hands,” as The Sweet Comfort Band takes it to church, Memphis-style, with Thomas’ guitar taking on an Eric Gale / Cornell Dupree voice on the fade.
This is a fine album by The Sweet Comfort Band, without needing any qualification or excuse – it’s just real, real good music by a real, real good band! The production is clean and warm, sounding spacious and uncompressed. The core band does stellar work, aided by James Q Wright, Kenneth Crouch, James Raymond, Tim Bullock, and Rob Rinderer, who contributed some smokin‘ Hammond B3 and jazzy grand piano.
Aside from a bit of a slow-down in the middle of the project (and these days you can arrange the track order to your liking, anyway) this is as good a Sweet Comfort album as any – maybe better. We’ve all grown up a bit in the last few decades – we just don’t all play or sing as well as these guys do.
The waiting is over – for now.
…but I’m ready for more.