Ah, Sir Keithwell Green. Bushy hair and curly beard...or was that curly hair and bushy beard? Although it appears, at first glance, that Keith confirms all the 'Christian' stereotypes by looking like a throwback to the 1970s, that's because his tragic death in a plane crash occurred shortly after that most flared of decades drew to an end.
Keith Green started life as a secular Elton-John-a-like in the big, bad world of pop. A supremely gifted pianist with a light but emotive voice, his career path could have taken him into stack-heeled platforms and multicoloured wigs. Instead, he underwent a radical and profound spiritual conversion in the early 70s, and immediately switched from yellow brick road to the straight and narrow.
That's not to say that the musical quality suffered en route, as has happened with so many religious converts in the past. Instead, Keith continued to unleash torrents of virtuoso yet 100% pop-savvy piano underneath songs of great melodic yearning and - dare one say it - 'soul'. Well, of course one dares say it, 'cos he was now writing about issues affecting eternity and the plight of the human soul.
This double-CD set gathers up about 50% of his post-conversion material, and includes some real gems. His 15-minute epic take on "The Prodigal Son" is unrepresentative, but never drags for one moment and has an emotive, life-affirming twist in its ending (like the original story, in fact). Elsewhere, he makes 3-minute pop songs with eternal truths at their core. Sure, he's a religious radical, and this is hardly "Songs of Praise" material, but he's clearly got a big heart and mostly wears it on his sleeve.
Musically, Sir Elton is probably the closest parallel, but somehow Keith Green transcends the slightly safe, suburban sound of 'our Reg' with this combination of edgy spirituality and piano pyrotechnics.
Sometimes - just sometimes - the syruppy American string section threatens to swallow perfectly innocent songs whole, and that's my only reason to dock one star from this CD. The 70s production isn't really a failing - after all, it was the 70s - but you might need a good hi-fi to really bring the best out in a couple of the tracks here. Otherwise, it's solid, piano-led pop with sold-out spiritual lyrics all the way.
Keith Green was tragically killed when he was just in his twenties; who knows where he'd be today if he'd continued the fine musical line of development on display here?