Dog and Pony Records
“We know what we are, but know not what we may be.” --William Shakespeare
Change is not necessarily a new concept to Kevin Max, who by his own admission has never been inclined to stay in one place for a long length of time. When it comes to his phenomenal talent as a gifted singer-songwriter, Max has never settled for the status quo, always pushing the artistic envelope in new directions. It is that creative flair that sums up his extraordinary appeal and has endeared Max to countless legions of music fans across the globe.
On his third solo effort, Max returns with a new, passionate and poignant recording, The Blood. A deliberate departure from his usual rock stylings, The Blood is a collection of rootsy, soulful Gospel gems that pays homage to the music that was at the root of rock and roll, blues and popular culture.
“We went to the heart of what I think Gospel music was in the past and how it kind of paved the way for all of what we hear today,” Max explains. “It’s an exciting project that has taken me further into the realm of music, making me understand the greater good of songs.”
In addition to researching a little “Gospel Music History 101,” Max also delved into some of his own childhood inspirations when picking songs for the new album. “I uncovered some songs that I don’t think a lot of people have heard very much,” he shares. “And I was also introduced to some of these milestone artists growing up – Elvis, Mahalia Jackson, Andrae Crouch and others. These songs and artists have left an imprint on my mind that has been hard to shake. I think this album represents the ideas, melodies and artists that put me on the path I’m on today, as an artist and as a man.”
Max enlisted the production prowess of fellow recording artist/songwriter/musician Will Owsley (Amy Grant, Shania Twain, Michael McDonald), who helped Max corral a high-profile roster of guest vocalists on several of the album’s tracks. Special moments include collaborations with such bold-face names as Vince Gill, Amy Grant, “American Idol” finalist Chris Sligh, Joanne Cash, Ashley Cleveland, Mary Mary’s Erica Campbell and a dcTalk reunion featuring Max and former band members tobyMac and Michael Tait.
“Producing this album with all of the people involved was like being a kid in a candy store,” Owsley admits. “It really was effortless, and it kept things very fresh. Sometimes I felt like all I had to do was push ‘record’ and capture what was happening. When you have artists and musicians with that kind of talent, my job is just to get out of the way and let them do what they do.”
The Blood also boasts an exceptional supporting cast of session players including Phil Madeira (B3), John Painter (horns, bass), John Fields (keys, guitar, bass), Bobby Huff (drums) and Vince Gill on guitar. The result is a rich, textured layer of vintage sounds and arrangements that music purists will embrace.
“I would describe this as a soul record—not in the R&B sense, but as in authentic music that has a new spin to it,” Owsley explains. “We took these songs and hipped them up a bit with new arrangements, but I think we maintained the integrity of what they were. The content is vintage, and I think it’s a great hybrid of the two.”
Max immersed himself in an eclectic slate of songs that includes the gospel-nurtured soul found on such classics as “Trouble Of The World” (inspired by Mahalia Jackson’s recording), Andrae Crouch’s “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power” (featuring Ashley Cleveland, Judson Spence and Kim Keyes) and Blind Willie Johnson’s “I Know His Blood Can Make Me Whole.”
“Blind Willie Johnson was kind of a cornerstone artist,” Max says. “I heard in his playing this desperate need of a savior. The older stuff is what really spoke to me. Some of the more contemporary songs today just don’t stand up to the old songs by Mahalia, the Kings of Harmony or others.”
The exuberant, rockabilly-flavored tempo of “Up Above My Head I Hear Music In The Air” is the perfect backdrop to the infectious vocal collaboration between Max and fellow artists Amy Grant and Vince Gill. “This is one of the really fun tracks on the record because we played with it a lot,” Max shares. “Amy was a pro, as she always is. It’s amazing to just watch her sing off the top of her head, strictly from her own intuition, with no rehearsal. Those are the great singers to watch.”
Gill also lends his signature guitar sound to the R&B-infused Curtis Mayfield classic “People Get Ready,” which pairs Max with Mary Mary’s Erica Campbell. And it’s on tracks like this and the Stevie Wonder favorite “They Won’t Go When I Go” where Max lets his vocals soar. “When he’s singing, the bar is set so high, you’re really just dealing with different shades of ‘great,’” says Owsley.
Max teams with former American Idol finalist Chris Sligh on “Run On For A Long Time,” the first single from The Blood. Originally written and recorded by the Blind Boys of Alabama, new friends Max and Sligh infused their own blue-eyed-soul touch to this upbeat arrangement that’s already generating a buzz at radio stations across the country. Another new friend, Joanne Cash, joined Max on the album’s only original cut, “One Way, One Blood,” a song he wrote and arranged specifically to pay a stylistic homage to Joanne’s brother, music legend Johnny Cash.
The Blood marks the reunion of Max with his dcTalk cohorts Tait and TobyMac. The group accrued album sales exceeding 8 million, as well as numerous Grammy and Dove Awards before parting in 2001 to pursue solo careers. The threesome comes together here on “The Cross,” a unique choice for the album, having originally been recorded by pop superstar Prince (Sign O’ The Times). “I’ve performed with these guys for 15 years,” Max explains, “so when I began going down a list in my mind of artists I wanted to work with on this project, they were definitely there. I think we picked the perfect song because it really worked well for us.”
The Blood comes two years after the release of his critically-acclaimed alt-rock project The Imposter (2005) and a full six years since his solo debut Stereotype Be (2001). There are plenty of reasons why artists rarely take risks by releasing albums like this, a stylistic departure from the norm. But The Blood is no doubt the byproduct of a personal journey that brought with it several life-changing events for Max. He endured the pain of divorce and moved to Los Angeles while wrestling with feelings of bitterness and rejection. But over the course of the next few years, a change began. He met and married his wife Amanda and the two have since become the parents of daughter London (2) and son Liam Wilder (6 months).
“After a year or two of living out who I thought I wanted to be in Los Angeles, I realized a mighty truth,” Max shared with friends and fans on his website. “God was beside me in failure, just as he was in success. I learned that his love for me held no boundaries.” Max brought his family back to Nashville in early 2007, and began the creative process again—this time knowing he wanted to focus on a group of songs that share a common theme. They hold a personal meaning for Max, but are sure to strike a universal chord with listeners everywhere.
“I feel like this is sort of the completion of a seven-year journey of me coming to grips with who I am as an artist,” Max reveals. “I’ve been through some tough things, but I’ve found a purpose in life, which was to really be responsible to who I am as an artist, as a person and as a believer—to take seriously the things that God has given me. In my mind, I’ve already lived the fantasy of becoming a rock star, and it’s not that great. It doesn’t have that much reward. Now I’m more interested in creating something that I want to sing about in the years to come. I want to create a platform that will allow me to continue to make projects that I hope will excite people and get them interested in music, in the scriptures and maybe even get them interested in looking at God in a different way.
“One of the reasons the songs on The Blood are so important is because they represent the answer, the medicine for the ailments. I love the significance of Christ’s blood as something that empowers us—it can literally change us. I know I am changed, and God has given me another chance to live a life that is full and without fear.”
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