Choir Loudest Sound reviewed on Phantom Tollbooth The Choir is clearly on its most consistent and prolific run since the early days – and how welcome is that!

Label: Galaxy 21
Time: 10 tracks / 45 minutes.

The Choir is clearly on its most consistent and prolific run since the '90s – and how welcome is that! These songs could have been recorded on the sessions for either of the last two albums. Again, the sound is pristine: chiming guitars from Derri Daugherty; distinctive and atmospheric washes of sound from Dan Michaels’ lyricon (a breath-played synthesizer); plenty of space in a clear mix; and economic bottom end from Michaels and bassist Tim Chandler.

I missed out drummer Steve Hindalong? That is only because he has charted the course of this complete album by his lyrics. This year he ‘came out’ as a recovering alcoholic, and its influence on this set is tremendous, whether in Twelve-step Programme references like, “You’ll be amazed before you’re halfway there,” bold confessions in “A World Away” or in the thankful worldview of a man living one day at a time.

Hindalong says that owning up to his addiction keeps him more dependent on God, the only one who can get him through, and this album reaches out to God with one hand and holds the hands of friends with the other. It also clearly shows in a healthy appreciation for what he has – ‘one day at a time’ means that the good things of each day are to be treasured.

This is where the album title comes in (and the disc is nowhere near as noisy as the title might suggest). The loudest sound ever heard is apparently the explosion of the volcano Krakatoa, referenced in the track “Learning to Fly,” where it reinforces the idea of making the most of everyday, because you never know when disaster might strike. But it echoes elsewhere in the line, “a true friend's heart is the loudest sound ever heard.”

“Learning to Fly” exposes as irresponsible the philosophy that says, “This world is not my home.” As Hindalong says on the commentary disc (available for a few dollars more) “everyday really matters, and we are responsible to live and to love to the fullest – everyday.” So he writes about separating the recycling and urges, “make that phone call, write that letter, live today to make amends.” The song is up there with many early classics.

Another of the strongest songs, with a great chorus and some sampled sax played on lyricon, is “Taking the Universe In.” Written after Hindalong took a turn at the driving run for his church’s work with the homeless, and marinated in gratitude for his wife’s bearing with him over the years, it is dripping with the senses:

“I wanna hear the ocean with your ears
Taste the salt of my own tears on your face
I wanna dream the dreams in your head
When we wake up and we’re not dead it’s a good day.”

One other track that will stand alongside any of their classics is also the longest. “Cross That River” has shades of U2’s “Bad” as it drifts along on some sparse and resonant low guitar notes ( Its imagery is so relevant to living day by day: “Cross that river one rock at a time… Never mind the rapid tide – you can cross that river /But you’re not gonna make it if you don’t take a chance / And there’s somebody on the shore holding out a branch.” Mark Byrd’s Hammock-like guitar work takes it to a higher level, bringing out the hope and exhilaration embedded in the lyrics.

While this album has a similar sound to the last two, it digs a little deeper. There is less about fellow bandmates than on the last album, although “Melodious” is a tribute to bassist Tim Chandler and celebrates the value of friendships in general. It is an unusually acoustic piece with tinkles of glockenspiel and Sixpence None the Richer's Matt Slocum on cello.
Slocum’s bandmate Leigh Nash duets with Daugherty on the final song “After All,” adding vocals to one of the ambient tracks from his solo disc, Clouds Edged in Blue. It remains a drifting piece, without drums or bass, and enhanced with cello and lyricon. With lyrics stuffed full of animal references, it is again about friendships, and how we get to love each other: “Are we here to learn to love? I think that’s true.”

There is plenty more on this disc that gets better with every hearing, including a salute to the independent spirit of a “Strange Girl” and a celebration of the joys – plus the accompanying vulnerability and pains – of parenthood on “Oh How.“ These magnificent moody melodies wrap a wealth of lyrical depth.

Savour it one track at a time.


Derek Walker

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