sun 14/08/2022

The Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir, Luminaire | reviews, news & interviews

The Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir, Luminaire

The Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir, Luminaire

The end of the world has never sounded better

If a couple of years ago, some old bloke in dungarees with a long grey beard had proclaimed that the Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir were his new favourite band, you probably wouldn't have taken much notice. But this particular hirsute gentleman is none other than the now legendary Seasick Steve, a man who has somehow morphed from unknown street musician to someone who can single-handedly make a Royal Albert Hall audience feel like they are in his own backyard.
It might also be argued that this American bluesman has been responsible for creating a musical climate in which the AMGB's fairly challenging, yet paradoxically roots-derived music might find a responsive audience in the UK. They certainly deserve to.
But before we go any further, it probably needs to be pointed out that these four Canadian fellows from Calgary, Atlanta are not from the mountains and nor are they a gospel choir. And for that matter, they've not made any public proclamation regarding their position on the existence or not, of either a deity or an afterlife. But what you do need to know is that their latest album Ten Thousand is a wonderful amalgam of Delta blues, bluegrass, gospel, and traditional Appellation folk music which, at times, brings to mind Tom Waits at his most lo-fi and theatrically Satanic. But what first drew me to these charming fellows was the fact that a mixing bowl is listed in the sleeve notes as one of the instruments they use: I love a band who know how to stretch the sonic envelope with kitchenware.
I was happy to note that perhaps that very same mixing bowl was sat face down on one of the drummer's toms, nicely complementing the Second World War army helmet which was mounted on one of his cymbal stands. And it wasn't long before both these idiosyncratic percussion objects were being given a good thrashing by the band's excellent drummer Peter Balkwill. But it's the banjo and guitar playing lead vocalist Judd Palmer who is the real focus of the band, and perhaps one of the few front men who can conjure up a veritable storm while remaining seated for most of the gig (as did fellow guitarist Bob Keelaghan.)
The sheer physical heft and joyously clanky racket that these three offer (ably supported by double bassist Peter Balkwill) is some of the most physically present music I've heard in a long time. As they move from the slowest, weariest blues to the most high-powered hillbilly rocker, one can almost imagine their music as the by-product of some cranky old machine. The slow songs are generated by creaking cogs of the machine as it hauls itself up the steepest of hills, and the fast numbers are it hurtling down the other side, dangerously out of control. For example, 'The Boig' limps and stumbles along like an old hobo with a bad leg, whereas the force of nature that is '10,000 Years' hurtles past like an out-of-control steam train. The set concluded with the crowd-pleasing warped gospel blues 'John the Revelatory'.
A brief mention should be given to support band, the Moulettes. They consist of two nicely frocked girls playing bassoon and cello, and a 21st Century beatnik who manages to beat out a steady high-hat and bass drum rhythm while simultaneously playing acoustic guitar and providing backing vocals. They may be best summed up by one of the girls casual asides to the audience, in which she described their songs as being 'a little apocalyptic.'  If this charming trio provide the soundtrack to the apocalypse, I imagine they'll also be serving scones and tea. I can't wait.

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