Rapture in the Chambers

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One of the less-expected releases of 1989 had to be the appearance of a new album by Spirit in the U.S. by a record company distributed by a major label. The group's last appearance in American record stores had been five-years earlier, with the poor-selling reunion LP Spirit of '84 (aka The Thirteenth Dream), largely consisting of re-recordings. Discounting a live album and an archival release that appeared on independent labels, the last time there had been an all-new Spirit album was 1977's Future Games: A Magical-Kahauna Dream. That LP was a solo recording by Spirit guitarist Randy California in all but name, and since then California had devoted much of his time to his solo career, releasing three solo albums internationally, but not in the U.S. Yet California's participation in the package tour Night of the Guitar, sponsored by I.R.S. Records, the label run by Miles Copeland and generally focused on modern rock, led to the company's interest in a new Spirit album. For it, California rounded up ever-present drummer Ed Cassidy and keyboard player John Locke, and got bassist Mark Andes (lately a member of Heart) to play on a couple of tracks and co-write one. That accounted for four of the original five members of Spirit; singer/percussionist Jay Ferguson did not participate this time. That's a key omission, though, since Ferguson was the other main creative force in the band. Without him, Rapture in the Chambers, like many Spirit albums since the breakup of the original group in 1971, is really a Randy California album. Of course, that isn't a bad thing, either. And the influence of the other members is not invisible. In particular, the lead-off track, "Hard Love," composed by Andes, is a good pop/rock tune, and "Contact," composed by Locke, has some of the flavor of early Spirit, along with highly referential lyrics ("Contact the Spirit in yourself"). Still, the album lacks the musical diversity that was typical of records by the original band. California constructs good rock tunes that showcase his exceptional lead guitar playing, and he writes lyrics that refer to common romantic concerns, promote environmental ideas, or seek spiritual uplift. Rapture in the Chambers is a more consistent effort than the Spirit albums of the mid-'70s that California helmed. But fans of the original lineup will hear only echoes of the band's early sound.

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