THE CHURCHMEN, CROWN OF THORNS
Mountain Fever Records
The last time I reviewed The Churchmen was for the release of their 2008 recording I’ll Be Long Gone. Between then and now, there have been some shifts. The earlier recording had strong elements of tradition, but the songs sounded more contemporary. They also had a higher pitch vocally to them (particularly when David Guthrie sang lead) and featured longer instrumental passages. As good as that one was, and it was good, this one strikes me as more direct and instantly likeable and engaging.
The band’s liner notes indicate that they feel such changes have been given to them to help spread the message farther and wider. There’s definitely a more traditional sound to this one. Drawing from that pool of forms and melody ideas lends a familiarity to much of the material, for example “A Crown Of Thorns,” “What A Wonderful Time,” and “Do You Know That You’ve Been Born Again?” Similarly, you’ll feel a sense of recognition when you hear the bluesy quality of “The King On His Throne” and the lilt of the slow, 3/4-time “The Words I Can’t Say” and “I’d Rather Have Jesus.” All of those and several others are drawn from writers such as Mary Beth Cordle, Billy C. Jones, and Becky Buller, as well as from the group’s banjoist/vocalist Carroll Arnn, but they pull you in like old favorites. You can call them melodic clichés if you like, but they are really more like touchstones that give the material and the recording a welcoming quality. (Mountain Fever Records, 1177 Alum Ridge Rd. NW, Willis, VA 24380, www.mountainfever.com.)BW
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