Today, the Cephas Hour spotlight shines on veteran Christian alt-rockers The Choir. Still vital and fresh as the band approaches its fortieth anniversary, the Grammy-nominated and Dove Award-winning band has stubbornly pursued its own muse for decades, producing music both ethereal and earthy as a foundation for genuinely profound lyrical observations. While the band’s entire catalog is worthy of investigation, this time through we’re focusing on the band’s two most recent albums: this year’s Deep Cuts and 2020’s Bloodshot.
First, Deep Cuts. True art distinguishes itself from even quality art in how it evokes different reactions at different times. The same work can at one moment be politely noted and quickly set aside, with the next marked by shattering power and sweep, utterly gripping via its provided portal to its creators’ hearts and heads ultimately pointing to the ultimate Creator. Such is the case with Deep Cuts.
The Choir’s stock in trade has long been atmospheric fusion of dissonance and resolution; straightforward yet unsimplistic tunesmithing weaving guitarist/vocalist Derri Daugherty’s colors and melody with drummer/lyricist Steve Hindalong’s multifaceted musings on life and faith, plus Dan Michael’s textured woodwinds. Deep Cuts is no different in this regard than previous Choir outings, although it bears noting the ethereal elements are more prominent this time through than on the previous Bloodshot.
What clicks on Deep Cuts is how it takes the by now familiar and makes it utterly new. The melodies are solid; the backing treatments enhancing without overpowering the fundamental tunes. Lyrically, Hindalong mines relationships with God and man alongside human frailty. Morose never, thoughtful always. The album has a late night vibe; art perfectly suited for contemplation and remembrance of what was, mixed with acknowledgement of what is and will be.
In a perfect world, Deep Cuts would be presented by the band to arenas packed with grateful fellowshippers. It won’t be, of course. True art seldom receives mass acclaim. But for the fortunate few who’ve caught the vision, Deep Cuts is a cut far, far above the norm.
Next, Bloodshot. It’s difficult to envision The Choir being in the company of country artists back when the genre was barely out of its teens, a time finding artists such as The Carter Family, Bob Willis, and Bill Monroe routinely crisscrossing the country, planting seeds of a idiom they created. Also, it’s not that Bloodshot is in any sense a country album. However, there is a common thread; more on this in a bit.
As noted, throughout its career The Choir has with graceful ease traversed between atmospheric and the near avant-garde, musically built around Derri Daugherty’s sometimes dreamy and at other moments, razor-slice guitar, while Steve Hindalong’s lyrics have purposefully plumbed relationships, life fragments, and faith through a poet’s eyes. In this respect, Bloodshot is no different than its predecessors. The Choir have for decades made extremely even albums, never failing to deliver something solid wrapped within textural diversity. Bloodshot, however, has some twists revealing Messrs. Daugherty and Hindalong are still more than capable of bringing something new to the turntable.
Bloodshot is, in many ways, the most straightforward album The Choir has ever recorded. Not that the music is an exercise in formulaic, commercial ear candy; rather, the songs are simple without being simplistic: more direct, more immediately accessible. Daugherty frequently employs strummed chords as a foundation upon which to bounce his effects-rich electric work, using it to create far more guitar interplay than is present in most Choir efforts. Even when there is but one guitar present, Daugherty accomplishes the rare feat of creating multiple sound swirls dancing around each other, always perfectly meshed within the song in lieu of drawing attention to themselves alone.
The album also differs lyrically from the majority of prior albums in that it is far more heavily relationship-focused. Not that faith is being dismissed, but on Bloodshot, Hindalong is at his most playful and celebratory of love between two people. This is the album you play for those who deride Christian music as bereft of romance.
Where the album harkens back to country’s emerging years is in its songs at their core. They are solid, uncomplicated, and tuneful; the essence of country long before it went cosmopolitan. It is not difficult to hear the compositions and picture them coming out of a dome-shaped AM radio, performed by a small acoustic ensemble in some station’s studio designed for live music. Whether this is intentional or unplanned is something only The Choir can answer, but regardless, it is there.
It’s easy, and sadly all too common, for an established band to trot out the same ol’ same ol’, album after album, knowing this will satisfy the vast majority of their audience. The Choir think and act differently. Bloodshot isn’t a radical departure, but rather a superb exploration of songs and sounds fused together, creating a record that’s memorable for all the right reasons.
Both albums are available on the band’s website.
Samples? Sure. From Bloodshot:
From Deep Cuts:
And on Spotify: