Larry David Norman was born on April 8, 1947. He passed away on February 24, 2008. In 2005 he released UNDERGROUND MANOUEVERS (Solid Rock Records) which included a lot of bootlegged recordings. The liner notes give an inside look into why he did not continue on with the mainstream band PEOPLE! You will also learn about Norman’s tortured relationship with Word Records, and his relationships with artists on his Solid Rock label. This project clocks in at a generous 78 minutes and 34 seconds.
The album opens with ‘Jon’s Blues’. Larry recalls: “Jon Linn opened up my shows with this instrumental many times over the years”. It features great electric guitar work though he was legally blind. He later died in a car accident. Next up is ‘Stop This Flight’ (with The Young Lions). Larry writes: “When I decided I had to get out of the Christian Music scene and move somewhere that people were more important to the artistic community than rank, self-promotion and cash flow, I wrote this song...I just couldn’t comprehend being stolen from by Christians. I would rather it was non-believers who were taking all the money”. So, the song is autobiographical and Larry’s voice sounds road weary: “16 hours from London/You know I’m flyin’ on a DC-10/I wonder if when this plane sets down/I’ll ever be able to walk again/I spent 35 days in Europe/Singin’ till my voice is gone/You know there’s never time enough to get a good night’s sleep/What is this road we keep runnin’ on?” It is a great rock song. A very short live song ‘Forget Your Hexagram’ is next. It offers advice about the supernatural: “Don’t mess with gypsies and don’t you have your fortune read/Keep your table on the floor and don’t you listen to the dead”.
‘Shake your Rattle and Crawl’ has a fun old time rock and roll feel to it. Larry wrote it for his baby boy Michael: “You make me laugh when I see you crawl across the floor/Whatcha doin’ boy?/Shake your rattle and crawl (4X)/Stay in your stroller while your Mama’s shoppin’ at the mall”. A live acoustic version of ‘You Shall Be Saved’ follows. It includes humorous interaction with the audience, but has a serious message: “I don’t know what the future holds/Don’t know what life will bring/But I ain’t worried about nothin’/Cause God’s figured out everything/I got one foot on this earth, one foot t’ward the grave/But I know in whom I have believed/And I shall be saved”.
‘Slave Song Medley’ is short and acoustic. It begins with ‘Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?’ It also draws from ‘I Got Shoes’ and ‘Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen’. ‘The Rock that Doesn’t Roll’ (with The Young Lions) is a rock and roll crowd favourite. It begins with these words of testimony: “I was lost and blind and a Friend of mine came and took me by the hand/And He led me to His Kingdom that was in another land/Now I feel so blessed cuz He gave me rest/I finally feel like I passed the test/I wanna be with Him/That’s my goal/With the Rock that doesn’t roll”.
‘That’s What Love is For’, an acoustic ballad, is next. Larry reflects: “This brings back fond memories of when I came back to America and found that audiences at festivals couldn’t be bothered listening to me, no matter how ‘high I was on the bill’. I didn’t have an earring, a spikey mullet, a thin tie and wasn’t bobbling all over the stage screaming”. Some of the words to the song are: “Love can bless you when it’s true/Give you hope and guide you through the darkest corridor/That’s what love is for/You have come and now the emptiness is gone”. ‘More Than a Dream’ is an energetic punk rock song by English poet and songwriter Steve Scott. It draws the following from the New Testament: “He said ‘I must split now, but a Friend of Mine’s due/He’ll bring wisdom and power and comfort to you’/The fat cats they killed Him/Announced the case closed/They spoke out of turn/Cuz on the 3rd day He rose!”
The longest track on the CD follows. ‘Australian Haze/Crossroads’ comes in at 6:58. It features blistering electric guitar work. Norman calls it an unrehearsed performance. He says: “I don’t even know the words. I’m just trying to make up lyrics which sound vaguely related to the song, and I always enjoy the improv of preaching through the music”. Some of the lyrics are: “You must love one another.../Some people take the high road, some people take the low.../The high road goes to heaven and the low road goes to hell/Go Johnny, go, go, go”. A solo acoustic version of ‘The Outlaw’ reflects on Jesus Christ: “Some say he was a sorcerer, a man of mystery/He could walk upon the water/He could make a blind man see/And he conjured wine at weddings and did tricks with fish and bread/He spoke of bein’ born again/He raised people from the dead”.
‘Letters to the Church’ (with The Young Lions) is an easy listening song on which Norman’s voice breaks a lot. Larry calls it “a song for televangelists”. Some of the words are: “You speak of compassion, but you don’t really care/You can talk of heaven, but are you going there?/God’s tryin’ to touch you but you’re out of reach/And you don’t practice what you preach”. On ‘The Road and The Sky’ Norman is joined on vocals by Tom Howard and Randy Stonehill. This song has an old time country rock feel to it and begins with these carefree words: “Well, when we come to the place where the road and the sky collide/I’m going over the edge/Just let my spirit fly/Well, ya told me I was gonna have to work for a livin’/But all I wanna do is ride/I don’t know where we’re going/From here, why don’t you decide?”
An acoustic solo performance of ‘Song for a Small Circle’ references several of Norman’s contemporaries: “And love to you Sir Stonehill with your guitar full volume on your amp.../With Clapton on guitar/Charlie Watts on drums/McCartney on the Hoffner bass/With blisters on his thumbs/Dear Dylan watch your fears all hide and disappear/While love inside keeps growin’”. Of the next track ‘Why Don’t You Look Into Jesus’ (with The Young Lions) Norman writes: “This is a bootleg from Europe...My voice is pretty bronchial so this is from the middle of the tour”. Keyboard, electric guitar, and drums are used on this Christian rock classic with bold lyrics: “You got gonorrhea on Valentine’s Day/You’re still lookin’ for the perfect lay/You think rock and roll will set you free/You’ll be deaf before you’re 33/Shootin’ junk until you’re half insane/Broken needle in your purple vein/Why don’t you look into Jesus/He’s got the answer”.
‘In the Garden’ is both about Eden, and the end of Larry’s marriage: “We were tripped by a dark device/We were so close to paradise in the garden/Now we stand alone in the burnin’ sun and think of what we should have done in the garden.../Now the garden’s dead and gone/And our suffering goes on and on and on”. The bluesy Steve Scott song ‘Stranger Blues’ is next. It finds a Christian conversing with a non-Christian: “Well, stranger you can laugh, oh stranger pour your scorn/But I bet you won’t be laughin’ on that resurrection morn/I love the Lord and He’s coming back one day/Stranger, won’t you change your sinful ways”. ‘Messiah’ (with The Young Lions) is an effective apocalyptic rock song: “Red clouds blotted out the sun/Darkness fell on everyone/Rivers of blood were running/I could see the armies coming/I could see their weapons fallin’/I can hear the Savior callin’/Messiah/He took this world by force”.
Five bonus tracks finish off this CD. ‘Father of All’ is a praise and worship ballad with just Larry and a piano. He writes: “I love these lyrics. They came right out of my heart. I stopped singing this on stage because I realized how personal it was”. Here’s a sample: “Father, I give You my life/Jesus, I give You my soul/Spirit, I give You my will/And I submit my control/Father of all, Savior of all, Spirit of all/I give my all to Thee”. A studio version of the song would appear on Norman’s 2001 album TOURNIQUET. ‘Love Medley’ finds Larry singing at the top of his range and includes these words: “And when you’re feelin’ down/You know the times you don’t feel good/I like to make you feel the way you should/And if you’ll be my woman/I’ll be your man/And when you’re down and out/Well, baby just reach out your hand”.
Next Larry delivers ‘Cup of Water Sermon’. He reminds us that as Christians we are to be more compassionate and actively care about the poor and unsaved. A version of ‘Why Can’t You Be Good? is next. It includes these words set to acoustic guitar: “You don’t even try to do the things you should.../You say that you love Him and that your faith is true/But you got so many stronger interests/What are you tryin’ to do?” ‘If God is my Father’ asks a great question: “If God is my Father/Then you are my brother/Why can’t we bother to really reach out and love one another?” ‘We Three Together/The Wabbit and The Twain’ is a fun ragtime number.
UNDERGROUND MANOUEVERS is a must have for any serious Larry Norman collector. It is an intimate album that mixes fun, energetic tracks with softer, more thoughtful numbers. In many ways it is a raw album with imperfect vocals and imperfect instrumentation. One can only wonder what type of material Larry Norman would be writing were he still with us today. I’m rating UNDERGROUND MANOUEVERS 95%. For more info visit: www.larrynorman.com.