In 1994 Christian music pioneer Larry Norman released a handful of albums including TOTALLY UNPLUGGED-(a)LIVE AND KICKING (Street Level Records). The album cover shows that Larry had no shortage of hair at the time!
The concert begins with crowd applause and shouting as Larry takes the stage. Larry shares that he did not sleep well the night before. He jokes: “I hope you slept well so one of us will be awake during this evening.” After some weird vocal acrobatics, Larry and his guitar launch into an old favourite ‘Watch What You’re Doing’. The song reminds us our actions on this earth do indeed matter: “I knew a girl, she was sweet as could be/But she fell for a man like a chain-sawwed tree/She listened to his lies/She was fooled by his charms/Now she’s sitting with a baby in her arms/You gotta watch what you’re doing…It ain’t no good to live a life of sin/If you don’t shape up, walk straight, you know you can’t get in/You gotta watch what you’re doing/Cause He does.” Larry introduces the next song ‘White Trash Stomp’ as a song about Corpus Christi and his Grandpa who was a barber and his Grandma who ran a chili restaurant. Larry jokes that he’s never going to sing this song again. Here are some of the playful words: “Me and my sister and my brother too/We sing in the desert like the coyotes do/Yes, we’re accidental touring in the human zoo-ow ow oww…Going up to Charles’ town/I’m goin’ see my ma/Feet up on the ottoman with my old pa/Then head for the kitchen, we’ll sit around and jaw/Over skillet cornbread we’ll discuss the law/Black-eyed peas, collard greens/Rochambeau, it’s time to go.” Larry says the next song ‘Step into the Madness’ is about America, but mostly Los Angeles. Either way the song uses sarcasm to make its point: “Step into the madness as a thousand points of light/Illuminate the warheads for the final fight/Step into the madness, say your prayers and drink your tea/Get ready for a kinder, gentler world war three/This is America, land of the free/Everyone gets justice and liberty if they got the money.”
Next up is one of Larry’s signature rebel songs ‘Why Should the Devil Have all the Good Music?’ The lyrics find him taking on his critics: “I want the people to know that He saved my soul/But I still like to listen to the radio/They say rock ‘n’ roll is wrong/Well, give you one more chance/I say I feel so good I’m gonna get up and dance/I know what’s right, I know what’s wrong, I don’t confuse it, uh, uh/All I’m really trying to say is ‘Why should the devil have all the good music?’/I feel good every day/Jesus is the Rock and He rolled my blues away.” It is clear that the audience particularly likes this song. It must be noted that this version includes Larry screeching like a rooster at one point and coughing! A memorable moment for sure! ‘Weight of the World’ is a pretty ballad not written by Larry. It’s about family baggage that gets carried invisibly from one generation to the next. The Bible says the sins of the fathers are visited on the third and fourth generations. Larry says we should love and forgive each other. Here are some of the lyrics: “Maybe your father didn’t love you like he should/Maybe your mother just held on the best she could/Everyone has a secret/Give it away or keep it/You’ve got to try and let it go/You carry the weight, the weight of the world/It’s breaking you down/On your back like a boulder/Before it’s too late, get rid of it girl/Get it off of your shoulder/You’ve been abused/But you can lose the weight of the world/It all comes down to who you crucify/You either kiss the future or the past goodbye/God can help you fly.”
Those who have watched a friend or loved one sink into depression will be able to relate to ‘Baby’s Got the Blues’. Larry sings: “At night she lays in bed/With secrets in her head/With pain too deep for words/Nothing can be heard/But the sound of her breathing/Mercies and angels up above/Heaven please help the one I love/Guide the direction that she goes/Watch every step, each hidden stone/Please let her know she’s not alone/Give her the strength to trust in everything she knows.” Larry digs into his back catalogue for ‘I Hope I’ll See You in Heaven’ which includes these words of regret: “As though youth were my invention/As though love lay undefined/To stay free was my intention/To stay young and unconfined/And so I held my pride above you/Oh yes, what a fool was I/Holding back those words ‘I love you’ and letting out that word ‘Goodbye’/I was wrong to let you go/I was a child and I did not know about the love that we both could have given.”
During ‘A Woman of God’ Larry jokes about being lousy at song leading, but invites the crowd to sing with him. The song speaks of the wife of noble character: “I need a woman who doesn’t take drugs/Don’t mess with men/Believes the Bible, despises sin/Lifts me up instead of knocking me down/Follows God instead of running around/I need a woman who’s kind and true/I haven’t found her but until I do/I’ll be looking for a woman of God/A woman with a righteous heart.” ‘Let the Rain Fall Down on Me’ has Larry giving us advice and offering up a prayer: “As through this life you ramble, through this world you roam/You might live in a lot of places and never find a home/As down this road you wander and through open fields you’ve crossed/You must never stop believing for all is not lost/And don’t worry ‘bout the unfaithful lover and false friend/For the love that you have given them is what matters in the end/Heavenly Father, help me Thine to be/You let the rain fall on the quick and the dead/So let the rain fall down on me.”
‘All the Way Home’ depicts our lives as a journey: “Sometimes I get so weary from this road/Life gets so bad I start to laugh/My mind becomes so weary, I wanna give up/But I’ve got to keep on looking for the right path/Let this good life be the life I lead/And let my faith grow like a mustard seed/Let Your love be all the love I need to carry me all the way Home.” The album ends with ‘I Will Survive’ which includes these beautiful words: “As the seasons go by in my Father’s world my eyes grow dim/I will trust not in the things I see/But bow my heart and lift my hands to Him/Though my days ahead are numbered/My life is rich, I have not slumbered/I will survive (2X)/Some hearts are pierced by love long lost/Let my heart be pierc-ed by the cross/I will survive (2X).”
This live concert CD is a must have for Larry Norman fans. It features just Larry and his acoustic guitar largely performing songs from his then fairly new studio album STRANDED IN BABYLON, which is a masterpiece. Larry seems to be in a good mood for this concert despite many health battles. The concert has an intimate feel to it and Larry’s voice is relatively strong. Fans of seasoned veteran artists such as Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and Leonard Cohen should give this a spin. I’m rating TOTALLY UNPLUGGED-(a)LIVE AND KICKING 90%. For more info visit www.larrynorman.com.