(April 28, 2014)
Overall Rating: ++++
With Shadow Weaver, veteran alternative rockers the Choir took their first plunge into crowd-funding. Although the GRAMMY®-nominated group has long relied upon some of pop music’s most ardent supporters, the results were unexpected. “The response was not only stunning, but humbling,” says singer and guitarist Derri Daugherty. “It made us want to deliver, and I think people are going to be blown away by this record. It’s pretty epic.”
A fearless sonic explorer, Daugherty has nurtured shimmering, otherworldly textures by employing his guitar in impressionistic brushstrokes rather than blunt force. He has also dug for visceral tones associated with shoegazer and noise-pop styles. For Shadow Weaver, Daugherty blends these elements with the post-rock ambience of Hammock’s Marc Byrd. “It was so refreshing to play with Marc,” says Daugherty. “Sometimes we’d find something outrageous, and we just poured it on.”
Together with Daugherty’s imaginative soundscapes, the Choir has also won careful attention through drummer Steve Hindalong’s contemplative lyrical themes. Past Choir albums including 1996’s Free Flying Soul summoned images of unfettered potential alongside Hindalong’s “prayers and twisted love songs.” The new album’s title turns a shade darker, recalling the questioning nature of the group’s 1985 debut Voices in Shadows.
“The theme is about contrast,” says Hindalong of Shadow Weaver. “I think that reflects reality. Most of us move back and forth. It’s about light and dark. Day, night. Hope, despair. Belief, disillusionment.”
The Choir has drawn a generation’s worth of inspiration from close relationships. 1989’s Wide-Eyed Wonder celebrated the joys and perils of new fatherhood. Shadow Weaver completes an arc by expressing the sense of loss felt by empty nesters with “It Hurts to Say Goodbye.”
“My oldest daughter had come up from Memphis,” says Daugherty. “We were trying to get her to stay. At one point she got teary-eyed and said, ‘Dad, Memphis is my home now.’ You’re proud that they’re independent, but you’re sad when they’re gone. Every parent can relate.”
Daugherty’s supple tenor takes flight on “We All Know,” co-written with Byrd. The melancholy waltz describes the universality of hardship, while praising the will to make things better for others and ourselves. “When Steve read the line ‘You know you’re alive when you taste your own blood, open hands to the sky with your face in the mud,’ it floored me.” says Daugherty.
The sublime “Everybody’s Got a Guru” follows the thread of “The Word Inside the Word” from 2010’s Burning Like the Midnight Sun, promoting broader tolerance than what is sometimes encountered in everyday life. “We all want to know what’s true,” says Hindalong. “But we don’t. ‘The bravest mind is an open mind’ is an important line to me. It takes courage to admit you don’t know, and that somebody who believes differently might be right.”
The brooding “What You Think I Am” rides a jagged riff while addressing both hero worship and the rush to judgment in the age of social media. Dan Michaels creates a powerful horn arrangement by joining his acoustic saxophone with synthesized brass played through his lyricon, an electronic wind controller. Bassist Tim Chandler propels the song with a fluid and muscular line that quotes the dire blues of the Beatles’ “Come Together.”
It’s a fitting thrill for the band’s dedicated followers that the Choir celebrates its 30th anniversary with an impassioned record and tour. Hindalong cites those fans as the impetus to continue. “Our audience is small, but faithful,” he says. “We can play in just about any city to a roomful of people that know every song. That might not mean much by commercial standards, but in many ways it feels like success.”
~ CC Mabby
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