Album Review – PFR: The Bookhouse Recordings

I still remember the day I bought my very first CD player. I had been saving my pennies and dimes for some time and convinced my father to drive me to Future Shop, which is Canada’s answer to Best Buy. Just a couple of days before my previous stereo had gone up in a flash of smoke and flame, and I had no intention of going more than a couple of days without music. And so it was that I bought myself a new stereo, complete with CD player. Of course I didn’t own a single CD, but the next day I remedied that. I made the treck to the local Christian bookstore and purchased Great Lengths by PFR (aka Pray For Rain) – my very first CD.

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Since that time PFR has been one of my favorite bands. Having heard Great Lengths I soon purchased their two previous albums and enjoyed every song. It was a couple of years later that I began my own painting company, and I remember carving time out of each day for a good couple of weeks to head to the Christian bookstore to see if their latest album, Them had arrived. That soon because one of my all-time favorite albums and I must have listened to it every day for months. It was with great sadness that I learned it was to be their last studio album. The following year they released a best-of and retrospective album called The Late, Great PFR. I was sad. Fortunately, a couple of years later, Steve Taylor brought the band out of retirement to record a song for a compilation album. They had such fun that they decided to reunite. In 2001 they released Disappear, an album I thought was great, but which slipped under most people’s radars. They disbanded once more. And then in 2004 they got together for one week to record three news songs and to re-record some of their old favorites. The result of that week-long session is The Bookhouse Recordings. Generally the band has moved in an acoustic direction, which will disappoint those of us who primarily like our music loud. Fortunately, the band is so talented that the true fans would still listen to them if they decided to do nothing but acapella.

This latest album kicks off with a new version of “Pray For Rain.” This has always been a great song, but the updated version is even better. It is just loud enough, has some great new guitar work, but maintains the flavor of the band’s first hit. I was not as crazy about the remixed “Great Lengths,” which, though interesting, does not eclipse the original. “Wonder Why” receives a slightly more acoustic treatment, leaving it with a big and hollow sound, but Hanson’s vocals shine through as they did on the original. “Anything” becomes a piano-driven ballad and “That Kind of Love” from Goldie’s Last Day sounds very similar to the original, maintaining the strong harmonies. The album works towards the end with “Dying Man,” a remix featuring a strong bass intro, and winding up with a version sounding very similar to the original (which is not a bad thing). The album closes with “Last Breath,” a song about life coming to an end. It is quieter and slower-paced than the original, which seemed almost frantic in pace.

The album also features three new tracks. “In The Middle” is an acoustic, jazzy song that adds a different dimension to the album. “Home” is an outstanding, folky song that is the best of the new recordings. “A Prayer For Beslan,” inspired by the acts of terrorism in that town, was a surprise. Because of the name and subject matter, I expected it to be a ballad, but instead it is edgy, loud and a little bit strange. I does not seem to fit the feel of the album very well, but takes the band to some uncharted territory.

As with PFR’s previous three recordings, we really have no idea if this is the last we will hear of them. Based on this album, I certainly hope they carry on, as it seems they still have much to offer.