Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir - Ten Thousand
Simon Jay Catling 02/08/2008
I've got to hold my hands up and be honest: my knowledge of American country music doesn't run particularly deep; obviously I can cite the Tom Waits and Johnny Cash's of this world as being unique and fantastic artists who influenced and continue to influence not only musicians within their own genre but a great many others as well (why only the other week I saw classical and jazz pianist Joanna McGregor perform a rousing version of Cash's gospel song Spiritual.) I've never really scratched beyond the surface though, which helps Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir in that their music is being thrown at an open mind and eager ears.
'Ten Thousand', the quartet's third album, is I guess what you'd expect from a country and blues band; rag tag banjos, slide guitars and yelping vocals are all par for the course here with some songs occasionally seeming so ramshackle that at any point it seems the wheels could fall off. The Canadians, whilst lyrically weak, do possess a certain charm about them, all four band members seemingly pitching in with the vocals to create a real sense of gang mentality. Songs like 'You Got It Wrong' and 'Never Be Dead' rattle on with a real purpose and could certainly ignite a countryside barn dance; in fact there's rarely a let up in the banjo twanging and frantically picked acoustic guitars throughout the fourteen tracks, most of which weigh in at around the three minute mark. 'Rainstorms In My Knees' is perhaps the biggest contrast on the LP, a gospel track that thuds along methodically with the foursome yodelling along to a steady twelve bar blues. The great trouble with country and western music however seems to be that musically its pretty limited; if you can rattle out a deft tune with 7ths and blues scales on a banjo with some loose percussion that seems to be all that's required; it's lyrically where the genre seems to come into its own and sadly Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir possess lyrics and subject matters far too vague to ever really draw the listener in. 'Nehemiah's Fortune' is a pretty straight ahead plea by the narrator to end the misfortune that apparently plagues him, whilst other subjects seem to base themselves around arguments with other people such as in 'Dumb It Down' and the aforementioned 'You Got It Wrong'. This is all well and good except that 'Ten Thousand' possesses no single memorable lyric to place it in a separate place from any of its peers or contemporaries; which is a shame because despite the limits of the style they're pedalling, the Canadian quartet still do it rather well. However, country music without personality isn't really country music at all and sadly they leave me no more of an urge to dig deeper than I had before listening to this LP.