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JFH Music Review

Petra, 'Washes Whiter Than'

Washes Whiter Than

Artist Info: Discography
Album length: 10 tracks
Street Date: 1979


In 1979, when Petra released their third studio album, Washes Whiter Than, the band looked like it was on its last leg. They had been let go from Myrrh Records (but picked up by StarSong). The only original member left standing was guitarist Bob Hartman. Greg X. Volz and Rob Frazier helped keep the band afloat by trading off on vocal duties and covering what instruments they could. While their prior two records failed to make much impact, aside from stirring controversy over the idea of Christian rock, Petra softened their sound to be more pop and funk oriented. The very '70s album art boasted the group was "new improved." The mellow sound and band lineup was certainly new, but was the overall product improved?

The listener immediately can tell the difference from the opener, "I'm Thankful." Although the track maintains a high energy, its sound has a lighter bite. The rockiest this album gets is with the praise-esque song "Morningstar," which features some great guitar work from Hartman. The funky "Taste and See" is another standout in terms of energy, but it's clear the raucous rock stage of the band is over. The rest of the album is dominated by more radio-friendly fare, such as their first hit song, "Why Should the Father Bother." Allowing acoustic guitars to take the lead, the track is also catchy with the vocal harmonies.

Similarly, "Yahweh Love" features good acoustic guitar work and a soaring vocal performance from Volz. Occasionally, the piano gets some time in the spotlight, such as on the closer "Deep Love."

In addition to the change of musical tone, there's also a slight shift in lyrical content on Washes Whiter Than. Whereas the previous albums were more evangelistic in their message, Washes is more testimonial and encouraging. There are occasional direct pleas to the lost to come to Jesus, but on the whole, the bent is to proclaim what Jesus has done for those already found. Of course, this can be used in evangelism, too, but it's also a message that Christians can relate to. The mellow sound complements the message in this instance. The easy-going nature of the music conveys peace, and that's exactly what the band is singing about. Yes, it can feel saccharine at times and cheesy at others, but this record is Petra's first where it feels like a cohesive set.

So, is Washes Whiter Than an improvement over the prior two albums? Some may argue that it is, while others may lament the watered-down feel. Regardless, it is a solid record in its own right. If one had no idea who Petra was, they might stumble upon Washes and think they found a rockier Keith Green. Compared to Petra's wider body of work, it may feel more like a speed bump than a mile marker, but one can't deny that the experiment did work to a certain degree. Petra were finally accepted on the radio. With "Why Should the Father Bother" leading the way, it bought the struggling band time and a wider audience. What came next would help define Petra for the rest of their ministry, but in this odd little stop along the journey, Washes Whiter Than presents its own unique charm.

- Review date: 3/5/23, written by John Underdown of

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. Record Label: StarSong
. Album length: 10 tracks
. Street Date: 1979
. Buy It: Apple Music
. Buy It:

  1. I'm Thankful (2:41)
  2. Why Should The Father Bother? (3:46)
  3. Morning Star (4:47)
  4. Magic Mirror (3:27)
  5. Mary's Song (4:00)
  6. Yahweh Love (5:38)
  7. (Couldn't Find Love) Without You (4:19)
  8. Taste And See (3:23)
  9. Magic Words (3:27)
  10. Deep Love (3:57)



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