\"By the cut of their bone-rattling blues and gruff vocals, this four-piece seem dredged from the same Delta mud as Howlin\' Wolf and Skip James, but they\'re actually a bunch of beardy white Canadians. \'Never Be Dead\' and the great slide guitar of \'Empire State Express\' sound both thrilling and alarmingly authentic. They do old-time country, too, best served by the raw, Dock Boggs-like \'10,000 Years\',\" wrote Andy Gill in Uncut magazine.
\"The Calgary quartet\'s third LP is an impressively raw and red-blooded, thrillingly gritty affair that betrays a contemporary punk spirit alongside its rootsy and boisterous, blues/folk authenticity, lining up next to Tom Waits, Wovenhand, The Boggs and O\'Death as well as Son House, Skip James and Mississippi Fred McDowell. Steeped though it is in the Delta blues and Appalachian traditions, \'Ten Thousand\' is not an homage to AMGC\'s heroes, but rather a bunch of spirited interpretations that kick serious ass. The righteous \'Dark Holler\' is just that, while \'Rainstorms in My Knees\' even has a whiff of ZZ Top to it. If none of this appeals, your soul is truly lost,\" wrote Sharon O\'Connell in London\'s Time Out magazine.
\"The JackBands with a surreal bent have a tendency to call themselves something they\'re not, so you won\'t be surprised to hear that this Canadian quartet are neither a gospel choir nor from the mountains. Their sound is a scary mesh of mistreated guitar, brutally plucked banjo, growling vocals and junkyard percussion. They\'ve resurrected the spirit of the Mississippi Delta only to beat it senseless and drive it out of town. Even the tempos are extreme: songs either lumber along like overburdened donkeys, or hurtle by like out-of-control jalopies. A whisky-sodden joy from beginning to end,\" wrote Howard Male in the London Independent newspaper.
An open letter to those who already know about us.
We here at the Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir don’t do things the way the music industry expects us to. That’s why we’re authoring our own press release instead of hiring someone else to write about us in glowing terms so you might, in turn, write about us in glowing terms. Maybe it’s a detriment, but you’ll get the goods straight from the horse’s mouth. We won’t lie to you. Really.
Here’s a quick backgrounder for those who don’t know about us, we’re from Calgary. We play music based on pre-WWII blues and mountain music though we’ve got our own weird, displaced take on it. In January, 2001 we formed with only a week’s rehearsal for a gig. People kept asking us to play. We put out two CDs by ourselves: St. Hubert (2003) and Fighting and Onions (2005). Critics said good things about them and people as far away as Japan and the Czech Republic bought them. We’ve played some cool and prestigious roots festivals in Canada and sold out a few clubs. Someone in Belfast, Northern Ireland heard of us and asked to play at a festival there. We did. It led to us doing a few more shows in the UK and recording a live session for a show on BBC Radio 2. Suffice to say, a few cool things have happened to the band.
Therefore, good fortune encouraged us to record a new CD. It’s called Ten Thousand. A record company in England is putting it out while we’ll deal with it ourselves in Canada. (For all of you who will inevitably ask about the cover, look up Hell Bank Note in the Wikipedia. It will give you some background on the concept.)
Well, then, what about the music? We’re still not a choir. We never have been. We’ve had a change in drummers, though. Jay Woolley left the band amicably. Pete Balkwill, our original drummer from way back when, rejoined the band amicably. He owns a really large drum kit. Judd and Vlad have started tinkering around with an old trombone, but that still doesn’t make us a choir. Ten Thousand was recorded in a big studio with Dave Alcock, a producer/engineer who has got a few sessions under his belt (Tanya Tagaq Gillis, Compadres, Chixdiggit, Falconhawk, Amos Garrett). So, has any of the aforementioned changed our sound? Yeah, a bit. You’ll be the judge of how much if you’ve listened to our other discs.
The music is still rough and rowdy. People will probably continue to describe us with nouns like moonshine, potato sacks, hobo campfire, and caveman. Most of the tracks were cut live off the floor, but we did more overdubbing. You see, this is our third disc. We thought we would take a few chances.
“The Boig”, “Nehemiah’s Misfortune”, “Go Back Home”, and “Rainstorms in My Knees” pretty much follow the Delta-Appalachian-country-blues-death tradition albeit adorned by clanging and banging in the background. You’ve come to expect that from us, or not. “You Got It Wrong” and “10,000 Years” are of the mountain-music-cum-bluegrass vintage that BBC DJ Mark Lamarr described as “angry picking”. And they’re fast.
We covered a Cajun song (“La Valse de Balfa”), but in our own strange way. It’s been in our live set for a while. We also covered another Son House song (“Empire State Express”) and a Sleepy John Estes number (“Stop That Thing”). Those are our tributes to old music. May the authors be wealthy in the afterlife, if there is one.
Then there are the weirder songs.
Judd wrote a song that wound up sounding like it was from Mali once we all started playing on it (“Taking It Out”). He was also keen on overdubbing it to death. So it features Judd and Vlad showing what they can do on trombones and my first fully electric guitar solo with this band. It’s a bit of a trip. Wait a second. That’s Judd and Vlad on the phone. They’ve got something to say about the trombone. Just a sec, let me put them on….
“Yes Bob, that’s right, a trombone; but no ordinary trombone. This trombone was found on a Winnipeg junk-shop wall, as is, by which I mean that it is a beautiful old thing that barely functions. Somehow the fact that it barely functions makes it right for the Choir.” Thanks, Judd.
What’s that Vlad? “I’ve always loved the ‘bone.” Thanks for that.
Describing “Dumb It Down” is difficult. We’ll say it’s a take on how old blues might have turned into early street jazz outside the local Church of Cynicism. Does such a thing exist? It does now. Slide guitar overdubs were the order of the day on this one.
“Never Be Dead” was pretty much written by all four of us right before we went in the studio. Pete and Judd wanted it to sound like a jug band turned into marching band. What’s that Judd? He’s contradicting me.
“No it’s not. We wanted it to sound like a techno song played on traditional instruments. Much of the album, in a way, is an experiment in the driving, trance-inducing rhythms common to some cantankerous forms of folk music and to the same instincts that have emerged in the music made in the last 30 years. Which is to say, we’re the kids we want to hornswaggle, and the grizzled ones doing the hornswaggling, all wrapped up into one weird Frankenstein monster with a marching drum and an old trombone.”
Okay, believe who you want.
“Life Is Long” could have been a gospel song if we were a choir, which we’re not. Instead it sounds like a demented something or other. We just don’t have the words to describe it. Maybe writing this press release ourselves was a bad idea. Sorry, we’re plumb out of adjectives.
Anyway, you probably get the idea. We hope you’re intrigued enough to give it a spin. I’ve noticed it sounds especially good in my car. Maybe listen to it there first. Thanks for your time.