articles novelsshort stories nonfictionpoetryupcoming events

Rick Altizer - Blue Plate Special

Review by Paul M. Carhart
Originally published in The Lighthouse Electronic Magazine (TLeM)

After listening to his debut release, Blue Plate Special several times, I have come to the realization that Rick Altizer must be someone who likes to break the rules.

First of all, and thankfully so, Altizer doesn't take himself too seriously. Perhaps it is this reason alone that makes this remarkably different project so much fun. And fun it is, from the "dead fish on a plate" motif carried throughout the packaging and liner notes to the hilarious multiple incarnations of Altizer on the inside portraying each of his fictitious band members (some of these photo-sketches are truly inspired and quite hilarious). This representation is not altogether untrue because, except for the occasional guitar solo by co-producer Adrian Belew, Altizer plays nearly every instrument and sings every vocal part on the project. Clearly, Altizer is a multi-talented performer who has every right to take himself seriously, even conceitedly, yet chooses to mix it up in a fun and friendly manner and give the glory to God.

That doesn't mean there aren't any serious issues tackled on this project. You may not, however recognize some of these issues right off. The fun and rockin' first track, "Make A Monkey" pokes fun at evolution and living an impulsive life while the sarcastic title track, "Blue Plate Special," compares society's constant repackaging of the things of old to "yesterday's chicken," which makes for quite a humorous analogy. The standout track is probably the Dylanesque "Jan's The Best," which is dedicated to Altizer's wife, Jan... apparently because she's "the best." Other, more serious tracks, include the other-worldly "Oxygen Tank," the haunting "River Of Grace" and the somber last track, "When You Walked Up That Hill."

Stylistically, Altizer seamlessly melds Eric Champion's glitz with Bob Dylan's stories, U2's melodies and Steve Taylor's or Randy Stonehill's humor. Every track is heavily layered with extra instruments, percussion to spare and a multitude of Rick Altizers singing along for good measure. Although Altizer could have easily played every instrument on the project, Adrian Belew's screaming guitars are interspersed throughout, adding an edge that would otherwise be missing. Some of the guitar solos don't sound exactly like guitars and there are some other instruments floating around in there that I don't even recognize, allowing for a variety of textures that explore many different moods, thoughts and emotions . Blue Plate benefits from not having the standard Nashville session players sitting in and definitely does not sound like any other album being released these days.

In addition to hogging all of the instruments and all of the vocal chores on his "first album ever," Altizer also wrote every track, proving himself to be one of the more refreshing songwriters in Christian music. One of the great things about Altizer's music is that he is able to transform his unabashedly upbeat, hooky pop songs into cool, unique, slick, brain-teasing rock/pop, framing his lyrical messages in everyday terms that anyone could relate to. The twelve songs on this project are radio friendly ear candy that would be just as at home on mainstream top forty radio stations as within the Christian market.

Another bonus is Altizer's insightful, yet brief liner notes where the reader will find little behind-the-scenes tidbits and sparks of inspiration for each song. These notes really are interesting and entertainingly written and, once read, sometimes even add another level to the meaning of a song.

The main downfall I see concerning Rick Altizer's future is that he is going to have a heck of time topping this album with his next release. Maybe by then he'll find some more rules to break and we'll be ready for him to "serve up" another new dish. Any way you look at it though, Blue Plate Special is no "yesterday's chicken."


Related Information

For a year or so I was a CD reviewer for The Lighthouse Electronic Magazine (TLeM) where this review was originally published.

- Paul M. Carhart


  © 1998 Paul M. Carhart, all rights reserved, all media.