Audio Adrenaline was one of Kentucky's points of pride in Christian rock.
Fronted by Owensboro native Mark Stuart and formed at Kentucky Christian College in the late 1980s and early '90s, the band cut its teeth playing around the Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio region. It joined Paducah's Steven Curtis Chapman as Bluegrass State musicians calling the tune during a critical growth period in Christian pop music.
That was why it was such a shame to watch the band have to call it a day in 2007, when Stuart's voice failed him.
The band members, particularly Stuart and bassist Will McGinniss, never seemed to want to quit, as evidenced by an almost interminable farewell tour that included a 2006 Ichthus Festival appearance and then a Rupp Arena stand the next spring. Then there have been pop-up shows, including a performance early last year at Broadway Christian Church.
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This was in part due to the band's desire to raise awareness for its Hands and Feet Project, a Haitian orphanage. But it was also clear Audio A never really wanted to go away.
So, it was no surprise to hear that the band reformed late last year. The surprise was the form it took.
As was clear last year at Broadway Christian, Stuart cannot front a band anymore. So stepping up to the microphone is former dc talk member Kevin Max, leading something of a Christian all-star lineup including former SuperChick guitarist Dave Ghazarian; journeyman drummer Jared Byers, former member of another Kentucky Christian-born band, Bleach; and McGinniss, the only remaining original member of Audio Adrenaline. Keyboardist Jason Walker rounds out the lineup.
Since the announcement last fall, Audio A has wasted little time trying to re-establish itself on the Christian music scene with new music, including the album Kings & Queens, which was released earlier this year, and an active touring schedule which includes upcoming stops in the Cincinnati (April 27) and Louisville (April 25) areas.
The album has familiar echoes, from Audio A and elsewhere.
In 1999, Stuart wrote one of the classic songs about Christian service with Hands and Feet, the tune after which the orphanage was named. Since then, the mission aspect of the band has grown to the point it sometimes seems they are a band to promote the mission work. And you get that on this album, which Stuart participated in writing and producing — continuing a "silent member" approach Audio A employed for a time with writer Bob Herdman, whose My God was the song that brought the band to Forefront Records' attention.
The title track and others such as He Moves You Move advance that message of reaching out to the poor.
Stuart told Billboard magazine last month, "We have two different orphanages that need help that we could basically use the platform of Audio Adrenaline to propel the Hands and Feet project so we can care for more kids."
But there is also a brash guy sensibility in songs like King of the Comeback and Seeker. You hear that old Audio Adrenaline voice in the songs, but it is a different voice we hear singing. It's not the raspy vocal of Stuart, but the smooth tenor of Max, who often provided a counterpoint to Tobymac's rap in dc talk.
With their other counterpart, Michael Tait, fronting Newsboys and Toby scoring No. 1 albums, there is this subtle sense that its the 1990s all over again in Christian rock.
There are definite pros and cons to that. It is good to see artists continue to do substantial work well into their 40s, but you also don't want to get too beholden to the sound of a past era.
Audio Adrenaline is just wading into this new chapter of its career, so it remains to be seen if this reboot will take. Audio A is a very different band now. But Kentucky can continue to take pride that it started here.