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Joy Electric
[ legacy vol. 1: the white songbook ]


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Legacy Vol. 1: The White Songbook - Click to view! Author's Note: Occasionally, after listening to and reviewing an album, a writer captures only the surface of what they hear. Further listening shows the writer that there's much more to a project than they first thought. This was my error in my initial review of Joy Electric's The White Songbook. In it I mistakenly categorized Ronnie Martin's project as "a work of fiction." Now, after much study and reflection, I'm convinced that The White Songbook is not a fairy tale, but a true story. That story is the story of Ronnie Martin and Joy Electric, and it is a story worth hearing. Without further ado, here is a "second edition" of my review: enjoy.

Rarely does an artist release an album which is, in essence, a musical book 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 literature. Yet, Ronnie Martin has done just that, penning a story of inner joy and tears, of outer success and failure. It is The White Songbook.

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: if you want to discover the hidden message of the songbook, you'll have to read between the lines and listen for yourself.

The title track is only a prelude to the story, but Ronnie sums up everything he wants to get off his chest. First he discusses how the contemporary Christian market has bent itself to please the pop culture ("to please the queens one bends the knees / and hopes to befriend the archenemy"). He also rightfully, yet covertly, makes jabs at dc Talk, Newsboys, Audio Adrenaline, and Forefront Records. These crowd-pleasers have drowned out Joy Electric's voice and denied them a rightful foothold in the industry, which is a topic that arises once again in "A New Pirate Traditional." Ronnie closes by saying how the band has spent "years in hiding" and how the flow of time diluted what they had to offer to the world. Additionally, "And Without Help We Perish" seems to be dedicated to jE's loyal fans. The first verse implies that even some of Ronnie's friends have "sold-out" to "rustling replicants born of percentage," or in other words, whoever's popular or "in" at the time. Thus the main reason of the chorus "Without help we lose it all / without help we perish / without help we fail" could mean that if Joy Electric didn't have such a loyal and devoted fan base, they wouldn't exist. As "The Boy Who Never Forgot," Ronnie recalls his younger years thriving with "hope and a full heart," but then hints that his hope is gone after being denied significant recognition within the Christian music industry. His struggle grows as he ponders in "Unicornicopia" whether or not God is even using him: "the Lord brings us about to the work of his own keeping / part of you speaks, 'do you need me?'"

Chapter 2 takes a different turn beginning with "A New Pirate Traditional," where Ronnie again bashes the CCM industry, and for good reason. Throughout the course of the song he exposes the industry's many shortcomings and how they've gone wrong, catering to the trendy and in-crowd instead of focusing on the world's lost souls. Ronnie pleas during the song's conclusion, "Who will love us, the unloved? And will an ounce ever be mine?" And we can't help but agree with him. Most if not all of his points have merit, and imaginably it's discouraging to see the newcomers and one-hit wonders come along and receive more recognition than an experienced artist who's been in the business for ten years. "We Are Rock" reaffirms this statement, but Ronnie vows not to give up. Similarly, in "The Good Will Not Be Cloned or Why Should the Christians Have All the Bad Music," the line "A DECADE OF BEING FORGOTTEN, NO MORE, NO MORE," is a foreshadowing of things to come. Obviously, big things are in store for Joy Electric, and whether it's the Legacy projects or some other secret they're keeping up their sleeves, this is a band that will finally get recognized. The dual title "Why Should the Christians Have All the Bad Music" is a hidden message in itself, but it's pretty self-explanatory whenever you catch its meaning.

Chapter 3's "Sing Once for Me" is dedicated to two individuals named Melissa and Beth, who we know nothing about thus far, but "The Heritage Bough" openly speaks about the downfall of Christian music and how it's been perverted. "What once was fair and divine you misplaced with the parts of a devil who made you unfaithful," Ronnie sings, meaning that Christian music once had only one purpose: to glorify and edify God. Now that purpose has been lost, and more and more artists are getting involved in the industry simply because it's growing and there's more opportunity. Such artists have snagged the young and innocent and caught them in webs of deceit ("secretly the cups of children hanged as wreaths"). Ronnie ends his rantings with "The Songbook Tells All," in which he alludes to the title track and asks the listening audience if we understand ("can you not read music, plain greek alphabet?"). The lyrics "your surname's come up, in exchange for dumbing up" seem to imply that the artists mentioned in "The Heritage Bough," know exactly what they're doing, yet pretend to be oblivious to it all. The line is a reminder that no one can escape the judgment of God.

Upon re-analyzation of The White Songbook, I find it more intriguing than before. Some of my interpretations may be off, but I've tried to understand to the best of my ability. Frankly, I believe that Ronnie Martin has a message for all of us. A story that he'd like us to hear. His story. I for one am eagerly awaiting Legacy: Volume 2 to find out how the story continues.

Special thanks to Buckley Cloud and Jason Ewert, who inspired me to “revisit” this album in search for truth.
- Rick Foux
July 2002
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