Praise the Lord: On their sophomore album, the Eagle Rock Gospel Singers dive deep into their bag of tricks for an eclectic mix of soul, gospel and Americana.
Music that reflects a deep religious faith, particularly if it falls within “indie” parameters, can be troubling from a marketing standpoint. Most indie music is either devoid of any kind of religious statement, or questions the concept of religion altogether. As a result, most of what constitutes popular contemporary Christian music seems banal and predictable and not really in keeping with what makes independent music fresh and unique.
If you’re the Eagle Rock Gospel Singers, however, you’ve got this figured out. Eschewing the contemporary sounds of popular Christian music, they’ve taken a natural and admirable step back in time by embracing Americana arrangements -- through the use of acoustic guitar, pedal steel, and harmonica, among other refreshing instrumentation choices -- and reveling in good old-fashioned campfire settings, complete with roof-raising shouts and Southern, bluesy tinges. Their official bio refers to the musical style as “an eclectic mix of alt-country gospel", and I’m inclined to agree.
Beginning as a collective of friends in the summer of 2010, the Eagle Rock Gospel Singers eventually pared down their lineup from 15 members to six and eventually five, releasing the album Heavenly Fire in 2015. Their follow-up, No Glory, shows the band honing its skills even further, thanks to a more open-ended, comprehensive style that ties together a variety of genres without ever sounding unfocused or needlessly meandering.
The title track is a fitting album opener, as drummer/vocalist William Wadsworth introduces a foot-stomping shuffle beat to accompany his distorted, almost Black Keys-inspired bluesy croon. When the rest of the band joins in the chorus -- “There ain’t no glory / None that I see / None to compare / Your love for me” -- it’s full-on revival time, with an upbeat mood bound to get the most morose music lovers out of their seats.
The Southern blues rock vibe continues through the next several tracks, whether it’s the strutting, four-on-the-floor twang of “Momma Told Me” (led by the gospel shout of vocalist Kim Garcia), or the simmering gospel funk of “Haunted", which is highlighted by the rich, soulful organ playing of guest keyboardist Dave Maust.
The Eagle Rock Gospel Singers’ calling card is more than just an organic, back-to-basics approach to Southern-tinged gospel rock -- the arrangements on No Glory have an eclecticism that offers plenty of surprises and a variety that’s refreshing. “Church Fire” is a stunningly arranged, movingly performed original song that sounds like a classic old hymn complete with vocals that echo through the walls of church where it was recorded. This song and “Lay Down Low,” another acoustic-based number of gospel simplicity, are the only two tracks recorded at Church of the Epiphany in Los Angeles (the remaining tracks were recorded in a studio), and the haunting atmosphere ratchets up the songs’ emotional heft immeasurably. Again, it’s hard to believe that all the songs on No Glory are original compositions as many of them could be mistaken for old spirituals.
There are even moments on No Glory when classic pop song structure creeps in, the most obvious example being “Something to Hold", which has an upbeat ‘60s soul sheen mixed in with the testifying, thanks to a lively horn section and some soothing Motown piano riffs. “Over Me” takes on the qualities of a jazzy torch ballad, thanks to its lazy, seductive tempo and Jeremy Long’s plaintive pedal steel.
No Glory is the perfect antidote to the dry, predictable nature of much of today’s contemporary Christian music. It allows the Eagle Rock Gospel Singers to profess their faith through music, but in a style that’s more open-minded , more engaging, and generally more fun. Regardless of your beliefs, a roof-raising good time is guaranteed.