Rick Altizer has returned with a new album called Bread, and it’s been far too long since we last heard from this fine singer/songwriter. Bread is best described as a spiritually-centered, power-pop collection and Altizer sounds to have picked up right where he left off, creatively speaking.
One song, titled “Better Than The Best Things,” puts God where He belongs, above all things. He’s even better than the Beatles, as Altizer points out the obvious. Nevertheless, many of Altizer’s guitar solos throughout the album have a George (a Beatle) Harrison-like quality to them. Yes, God belongs on the throne. However, Altizer evidences that the Beatles are, after all, one of life’s better things.
The album’s finest selection also hearkens back to another one of rock music’s ‘best things,’ Bob Dylan. Altizer chose to cover “In The Garden,” where he draws from the rich treasure trove of Dylan’s born again phase. Back when Dylan was singing openly about his Christian faith with albums like Saved and Slow Train Coming, he was a cultural lightning rod. He helped make Christianity into a top tier social issue, for better or worse. What’s often forgotten about this period, though, is — whether you agreed with Dylan’s spiritual choices or not — he was writing some of his best songs, and raising the bar higher than ever for Christian music overall. Altizer could have easily attempted to replicate Dylan’s original arrangement. However, Altizer has witnessed Bob Dylan concerts first hand, and knows well how this musical icon rarely plays even his own songs the same way twice. To shake things up, Altizer kicks off the track with a Stones-y guitar riff, which is dopamine for serious rock & roll fans. Like George Harrison, Keith Richards is also one of life’s good things. With his other cover of Paul McCartney & Wings’ “Jet,” Altizer plays it relatively straight. Whereas “In The Garden” puts the world to task with what they believe about Jesus Christ, “Jet” is — unless I’m missing something — is just a fun song to sing.
The album’s title track is an acoustic, blues-influenced work featuring some truly enjoyable guitar work. This song, like many other selections on the album, features Altizer’s multi-tracked vocals placed over various musical styles. “Bread” also has a bit of a raga quality to it. Whereas most of Altizer’s compositions are relatively neat and tidy, this one is looser and more free flowing. In other words, it sounds like it may have come out of an informal jam to begin with, which Altizer transformed into a memorable song. Although the song’s title might strike fear into the hearts of keto adherents (Bread has way too many carbs!) Jesus is, after all, the bread of life, and Altizer nicely makes that theological point with his song.
One of Altizer’s best character traits, which many times shows through in his songwriting, is the ability to humbly engage in vulnerable self-examination. “Help Me In My Unbelief,” finds Altizer creatively applying this admiral trait. “I can quote the promises/I can preach the positive/Mostly I preach to myself,” he confesses. Anybody that doesn’t sometimes face bouts of unbelief is a liar. Altizer won’t lie to us, though. “Another Yesterday,” one the album’s slower tracks, finds Altizer asking God for a do-over. On a side note, hearing Altizer sing his request for ‘another yesterday,’ brings the movie Yesterday to mind. When that movie’s primary character sang the Beatles’ “Yesterday” to a world that had just had all its memories of the Beatles permanently erased, it was almost as though this struggling singer/songwriter had been gifted with a ‘new’ “Yesterday. But we digress…
All throughout, Altizer sings these songs with a strong voice and consistently places his lyrics over memorable melodic beds. Lyrically, these songs are also spiritually-focused from beginning to end. It’s never preachy, but Altizer sings assuredly from Christian worldview, which distinctly colors his views on all sides of life. Altizer has more recently made a name for himself as a film director, notably for his recent Russ Taff documentary, and a Chonda Pierce film before that. So, we can all be thankful Rick Altizer is breaking (out) bread for us and flexing his musical muscles once again.