The bearded one buries the band with a requiem mass – oh, and it just happens to use choral chants, bombastic rock, symphonic bluegrass and probably a couple of kitchen sinks.
Label: SixSteps Records
Time: 34 tracks / 101 Minutes
Crowder gives his band’s swansong the structure of a requiem mass. So it begins with an introit: the sound of footsteps walking into church, the title theme, “Lux Aeternam Shine” (monks chanting with electronic bleeps and whooshes over the top) and “Come Find Me,” whose guitar riff is played like chiming bells.
The mass format continues across the two discs, from Kyrie, through Dies Irae and Sanctum to the Paradisum, where he ends with hymn-like celebrations of resting in Jesus. It is a brilliant way to finish their career, the structure meaning that he has a broad range of material to work with and cannot just play out the same-old CCM. I suspect that his tongue is firmly in his cheek as he celebrates the ‘death’ of his band, but I wonder whether it has been too long a journey for him as he sings, “Oh Great God give us rest / We’re all worn thin from all of this” – is he talking about years on the road or is it a more general cry?
The most striking section is the Kyrie. One of his best ever tracks, “God Have Mercy” has more than a little Delirious? influence as it kicks the segment off. Its insistent beat, grand keyboards, interwoven vocal strata and layers of sound bring out the pleading nature of the song. “Fall on your Knees” is a more conventional rock track that still conveys a sense of wonder; while in between these sits the old Kris Kristofferson song “Why Me?” played in acoustic humility.
The first disc soon dispelled my initial concerns that this may be case of style over substance. Each of its seven ‘proper’ tracks is strong, driven with emotion and purpose, such as “Blessedness of Everlasting Light,” a piece in 3/4 time with a circus feel that would fit right into the Decemberists’ Hazards of Love.
The disc ends with seven ‘sequences:’ seventeen minutes of shorter pieces that include a bombastic work about the day of wrath; dramatic choral Latin chants; a reflective interlude and a rock instrumental. They bring together a dynamic range of sound, style, colour and mood.
While the first disc is bulging with variety, the second strips away the electronica and bombast, leaving a more evenly-toned set that brazenly shows its country-based influences. If it weren’t for the odd reprise of the main theme, it would be a completely different album
“Oh my God, I’m Coming Home” uses cassette recorder sound effects to accentuate its lo-fi solo acoustic style; the traditional “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” features mandolin, fiddle and strummed guitar; Crowder almost yodels in “Jesus Lead Me to your Healing Waters” (which could pass as a traditional song) and “There is a Sound” begins with mandolin before building to a whole band sound. If there is such a style as symphonic newgrass, this disc could be it.
Credit to Crowder for stopping the band at the top of its game, rather than clinging on and regurgitating more of the same. This is magnificent. Who knows what he’ll come up with later, if he gets the rest he’s asking for.