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Water Into Wine Band - Hill Climbing for Beginners CD (album) cover

HILL CLIMBING FOR BEGINNERS

Water Into Wine Band

 

Prog Folk

3.49 | 5 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
4 stars Here's an interesting album with unfortunately too little information available to help fully explain it. The band gets mentioned quite a bit even today as an influence by many Christian musicians, but some of that may be just pretention since the band and this album are pretty obscure, and weren't even very well known when they were active a quarter-century ago.

Water into Wine Band have been connected to the so-called hippy 'Jesus Movement' of the Woodstock era. Overtly Christian themes lyrics like "this box of wood I'm playing 'though I call it my guitar, will not come with me when I'm gone" and "I've done my share of sinning lord, yeah I've laughed and though of you - but now I'm ready for You" bear testament to that (pun partially intended). But if you can get past the sometimes overbearing self-flagellation, this is a pretty decent folk album with some very creative variations despite being a mostly acoustic and mellow recording.

The band apparently first recorded these tracks in England for a UK release, but following the band members' graduations from Cambridge they undertook a brief tour of the U.S. and another, more water-down version was released there. My Radioactive reissue is a bit of a disappointment since there are virtually no liner notes save for album credits printed in an unreadable 4 or 5 point font. The Kissing Spell release is said to be a double-disk CD with copies of both the UK and U.S. versions of the album, along with a booklet containing pictures and extensive biography notes. I haven't managed to find a copy of that one yet.

The opening track "Stranger in the World" sounds like a St Peter-inspired 'just waiting for the rapture' tune that features mostly acoustic guitar and a little bit of violin. Not an auspicious beginning, but things do pick up after this one. "I Used to be Blind" features a stunning violin solo that raised the hair on the back of my neck the first time I heard it, and it immediately found its way onto one of my many violin compilation CDs.

"Jesus I've Been Walking" is a come-to-Jesus lament whose lyrics fit into that overbearing category, but the guitar and percussion rhythm is quite good, while the vocals and mood remind me quite a bit of another dirty-sinner Jesus group, Wovenhand. This track also has some outstanding a haunting violin work.

The title track is set to bongos and piano in an easy lumber with almost whispered vocals that I can't really be bothered to try and make sense of. The piano makes this one work despite the garbled vocals, and the bongos set the context squarely in the early seventies.

The next couple of tracks are weaker in my opinion, more piano and some violin but mostly more vocal moaning about the bitterness and toil of The Struggle. "Start of a Run" has some nice vocal harmonies, and "Song of the Cross" is another Wovenhand-like slow number that mostly centers around acoustic guitar picking and violin. This is the longest track on the album and has some mildly interesting tempo changes, but there's only so much you can do with acoustic guitar and bongos so in the end the song comes off as a bit too long and self-indulgent for my tastes.

The Radioactive version ends too soon with a mildly psych electric guitar-led "I Have Seen the Lord", too soon I say because other versions of this album include a longer version of the title track that I've heard and prefer to the one presented here.

The band would record another album ('Harvest Time') before fading away along with most of their Jesus freak brethren in the mid-seventies, but I have to admit their legacy is one of enthusiastic and original music that sounds more sincere than much of Christian popular music today. So for that (and for the exceptional violin work) I'm going to go with four stars for this odd piece of music history. Good luck finding it, but if you do I'd recommend it if you are a prog folk fan or someone who collects religious music but are turned off by the overbearing and polished stuff being passed off under that guise these days. And if anyone comes across the UK version please post a review as I'm really curious to hear about what the record company felt was too rough for American ears.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |

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