Phil Keaggy is the Paul McCartney of Christian pop, though his songs encompass not only classic Beatlesque influences, but also contemporary fusion and new wave. He's also one of the finest guitarists on either side of the secular wall that keeps most Christian music off all but Christian stations.
His latest album, "Underground, Vol. 1," is a collection of songs Keaggy recorded in the basement studio of his home, dubbing all the guitar and synthesizer parts over a rhythm machine. But the title also befits his reputation.
Like McCartney, Keaggy has an instinct for pop hooks and sinuous melodies, and a soft-edged voice to deliver the message. Happily, that message seldom slides into the overt preachiness that overwhelms so much Christian pop. On the terse, angular "Deadline," Keaggy simply catalogues the stresses of the workaday world, while the "Revolver-ish" "Think About It" begs for rational action. On "The Two of You," Keaggy offers a lovely wedding song to two who have "come as one to seek the face of the Father." "One in a Million" is a graceful and straightforward love ballad to his wife, while "The Survivor" is a passionate pro-life plea.
There are also three Keaggy instrumentals to confirm his reputation as a fleet and inventive guitarist (though the rhythm machine keeps things from exploding). For more confirmation, one can look for the recently re-issued "The Master and the Musician," the all-instrumental album that first established Keaggy as a master musician. PHIL KEAGGY -- "Private Collection, Volume 1-Underground" (Nissi EMR4600) and "The Master and the Musician" (Nissi EMR4603); appearing Sunday at 7:30 at Constitution Hall.