It's a mark of Phil Keaggy's reputation as a guitar legend that his latest album, "Play Thru Me," has liner notes featuring a "guitar rap" for each song. Unusual on a record of contemporary Christian pop music, but Keaggy -- who once played in Glass Harp with Duane Allman -- proves on cut after cut that he's one of the most proficient and inventive players around.
There's a majesty in his playing, which has the fluid, ringing clarity of Lee Ritenour or John Hall; in fact, there's a brisk, Orleans-style percussive edge to many of Keaggy's compositions. A very modern player, he can shift from a Dregs-like funk shuffle on the instrumental "Happy" to the Steely Dan-ish gloss of "Nobody's Playgirl Now" and "Make a Change," and to the Doobie-ish soul of the title cut. Keaggy's clear, soft-focus vocals and melodic romanticism are often reminiscent of Paul McCartney -- "Carefree" and "Papa Song" would be maudlin in less honest hands.
Like T-Bone Burnett, Keaggy doesn't so much preach as exemplify the quiet strength of his Christian life -- the power of positive pop, as it were. He points not at the listener but to his benevolent God, tightly bound family and lasting friendships.
There's nothing fractious or disturbing here, though Keaggy's willing to turn out some tough, involuted guitar phrases to punch up a melody. (Like McCartney, he also plays most of the instruments heard on the album.) ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUM PHIL KEAGGY -- Play Thru Me (Sparrow SPR 1062). THE CONCERT PHIL KEAGGY with Sheila Walsh, Sunday at 3 and 8 at Fairfax High School Auditorium.