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Gospel Noir

Editor’s note: The full-length version of this album will be released early in 2002.


The Reverend Vince Anderson considers himself a man of God—nevermind that he dropped out of seminary three months into the gig. “I’m self-ordained, making it legal via that ad in the Rolling Stone,” he scribbles in I Need Jesus, an eight-song precursor to the forthcoming full-length album The 13th Disciple. As such, it’s his mission to share his vision of Christianity via some intense, passionate, sometimes blood-curdling singing; it’s what Tom Waits might have sounded like had he gone the way of Al Green, pursuing all things heavenward and belting out “Amazing Grace” in place of “Filipino Box Spring Hog”.


Anderson’s vocals are garbled and incomprehensible from the get-go. Perhaps the more caught up in the spirit he is, the less it matters that he’s totally understood. Feeling supersedes intelligibility. Put plainly, it sounds a bit like he’s gargled thumbtacks before entering the recording studio. “Johnny Shot the Mexican”, the album’s opener, moves forward with such a fervent intensity and speed, it’s almost considered an accomplishment one can make out the words to the chorus and note the use of horns throughout the song. Everything else is the sound of unbridled emotion.


But as it ever so abruptly switches gears from fifth back to first again with the traditional “I Need Jesus”, the vulnerability of the fair Reverend is allowed some exposure. Over the haunting echo of a slide guitar, he mimics its strains—or maybe it’s the other way around—as he pleads with the Lord to stay by his side throughout his trials. He ranges from quiet beginnings to husky growling to outright yelling and then back again to a near whisper, the guitar rising and falling all the while as well. One starts to view his as a tortured soul, putting truth to his words that most of these songs—recorded over a period of six years—were recorded late at night on a 1967 reel-to-reel “after a few hours of meeting with my demons”. If his website is any indication of what those might be, it’s safe to assume they have names like Budweiser, Coors, and Michelob. Indeed, his belief is God called him out of the Union Theological Seminary in New York City where he was studying to be a Methodist minister and into the bars, where he “ministers his fractured Gospel through story and song”, according to a press release.


It isn’t impossible for Anderson to be understood all the time, though, and the gravel in his voice subsides when it comes to affairs of the heart. Both “If You Ever” and “Lovers on Lease” pair him with a guitar and piano, respectively, and he conjures up some intimacy pretty easily. It’s pleasing to see a Christian artist (using the term loosely) approach his craft at an angle that few before him have: while what can be considered his love songs do contain, say, the occasional “hallelujah”, little else in either has much to do with preaching. In fact, if the word “fuck” falls out of his mouth—and it does, following “Jesus Christ (Friend of Mine)”, a countrified call-and-answer number begging to be sung along to—it isn’t cut, but celebrated. Cussing, loving, and drinking are all but parts of the package of a man who embraces his imperfections with certain exuberance.


The point where I Need Jesus comes together is on “Bon Voyage”, a song about his forthcoming funeral. Recorded live in and amongst his congregation of bar attendees, the collective sings what sounds to be a fishing song of sorts, all too happy that he’s entered his grave. Of the discernible words, “Bon voyage, you bastard, bon voyage” come out loud and clear. Though their words speak the contrary, it’s clear this handful of friends/followers would offer well wishes upon his death, maybe even arrive at his funeral—well, provided it was late in the day and several pints of Guinness were part of the equation. And Reverend Vince Anderson wouldn’t have it any other way.

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