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[ legacy vol. 1: the white songbook old review ]


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Legacy Vol. 1: The White Songbook - Click to view!Rarely does an artist release an entire album in which all songs function as one entity, one body, if you will, designed to relay a story to its listeners. In doing so, the songwriter transposes himself as an author, and in turn his musical creation becomes a work of fiction. In Joy Electric's latest, The White Songbook, frontman Ronnie Martin pens what could be an excellent, well-hidden work of literature, the band's most breakthrough album to date, or both.

The "story" actually begins in the CD liner booklet, which has even been divided into chapters and sub-chapters, with the song lyrics serving as the words to the "book." It's easy to flip through and read in a couple of minutes, but the true essence of the story is captured on the CD, meaning if you want to discover the hidden message of the songbook you'll have to read between the lines and listen for yourself.

CHAPTER 1: The White Songbook
Upon opening the songbook, the most noticeable difference you'll hear is the resurrected Joy Electric. Unlike the sugary, pleasant synth-pop on their past records, The White Songbook is much darker and even haunting at times. One reason for this is that the entire album was recording using 100% analogue synthesizers: no keyboard or drum machines this time around. Although mostly an instrumental piece, Ronnie himself speaks a few words towards the end of the title track and discusses how at times fans often try to mask the band's Christianity (we've spoken clear / but become hoarse / through Morse code and phonographs). "Shepherds of the Northern Pasture" grows even more chilling, weaving the tale of the night of Christ's birth with a jumpy synth background and resonant vocals by the band's three members. The next sub chapter, "And Without Help We Perish" has the makings of an epic, beginning with distant UFO type noises and crescendoing into Ronnie's sleepy voice. The song's message should be obvious enough from its title. "The Boy Who Never Forgot" and "Unicornucopia" both breathe relaxation as they are more soothing to the ears. The first chapter closes with a reminder of the peace of allowing God to live inside of your heart.

CHAPTER 2: Hunter Green and Other Histories
Just as the reader drifts off into a dream-like Utopia, the story picks up again, and action prevails during the entire second chapter's three tracks. "A New Pirate Traditional" rocks the electronic world as the hardest Joy Electric song ever recorded and possibly even the most questionable. In this track alone, the band speaks outright to God, feeling a sense of abandonment and digging for answers to the same rough questions: "Why do bad things happen to good people? If you're so good then why do you allow bad to happen? Why do the wicked prosper?" "We Are Rock" pulses with the same high energy synth-rock, but with a higher sense of confidence in their abilities as a Christian band. Finally, Chapter 2 concludes with a total rebirth of jE's mission in "The Good Will Not Be Cloned (Or Why Should the Christians Get All The Bad Music)." Serving almost as an anthem, they vow to take a stand in the industry for their beliefs (Us poor starve on the crumbs you leave / A DECADE OF BEING FORGOTTEN / NO MORE, NO MORE).

CHAPTER 3: As Children We Are Growing Younger
In what could only be described as surreal, the next chapter opens with another brief instrumental track which sounds like an assortment of synthesized birds chirping. Only two tracks long, Chapter 3 is probably the most reminiscent of any prior Joy Electric tunes. In a word, they're sugarcoated. "Sing Once For Me" and "The Heritage Bough" alight images of youthful settings; children playing in fields until dusk, running through shaded forests, and discovering the joy of being alive. Together, both songs are reminders of how everyday we as Christians take a step closer to our "Homecoming" and eternal life, and urge us to live every day as if it were our last.

CHAPTER 4: A Frog In The Pond
As the songbook winds down to a close, the final track and conclusion "The Songbook Tells All" makes it plainly clear what the moral of the story has been the entire time (can you not read music? / plain Greek alphabet?) yet seems to add to the mystery even further (underneath straw all of the ants engulfing you / where are the secrets, huh?). Evidently Ronnie Martin is content on letting us figure out the rest of the story for ourselves, which shouldn't be too difficult for anyone who knows Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Though bizarre and confusing to even the most mature of listeners, The White Songbook is an outstanding journey through the stages of existence and doubly is Joy Electric's best work to date. While listeners who are scared of synthesizers should stay far, far away, anyone who appreciates a wonderfully crafted work of art, or just a good storytelling, should check out The White Songbook. It's no alternative to reading, but chances are you'll discover a story that you won't hear anywhere else.
- Rick Foux
February 2002
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