Reviewed by Kent Manthie
Churchwood is back, this time with a new full length album, simply entitled Churchwood 2. This Austin, TX band is a wild bunch of snake-eyed rhythm devils. Those who remember their debut album and were wowed by it will be delighted to revel in this one.
Their music falls somewhere in between Rev. Horton Heat, Captain Beefheart, a Texas-style Nick Cave as well as The Cramps. Yes, that is quite a diverse crossbreed, but when you hear it, you’ll find it’s an apt description. The 10 songs on 2 are each a treat to listen to. The guitars are slick, sinister and intricate as well. It’s a well-produced album too – not a murky sounding, homemade sound, but a clean, well-lit album. The one thing about Churchwood is that singer, Joe Doerr has a singing voice that sounds a lot like Tom Waits with a Texas drawl and since Waits is nothing short of a musical god, that is high praise.
Churchwood or, rather the parts that make up the sum have been around quite a while. Singer Joe Doerr has been around for some time – first in the early 80s as Kid LeRoi in the Texas “roots”-music band, The LeRoi Brothers. After that, Doerr and guitarist Bill Anderson first met up in another Austin-based band, Ballad Shambles which soon changed into Hand of Glory, which was praised by music press as being “a diverse & exciting quartet…A Strikingly potent band – mixing up cowboy rock, blues, Doorsy atmospherics and more with confidence and creativity” Hand of Glory’s two albums on Skyclad Records are, being out of print and practically impossible to get unless you get lucky at a used record store or on Amazon.com – you never know what you can come across there, what with the giant network of independent record stores all over the US, Canada and UK too, somewhat collectible to the connoisseur. The band broke up in 1992, just as their prescient grunge-style, laid-back rough & tumble music was getting a new life, with other influences such as Husker Du, The Melvins and early Meat Puppets as that fad called “Grunge” that eventually pretty much ruined the word “alternative” and turned it into just another commercial, corporate commodity.
It wasn’t that long before Anderson came back to his roots – the blues, his original inspiration before branching out into a dada-esque painting of influences and styles. Anderson was, as he said, listening to Captain Beefheart a lot at the time and that’s one thing that got him going again. And when he was thinking of “getting the band back together” as the saying goes, he thought, once more, as Joe Doerr – his perfect vocal complement. Next thing you know, they were tinkering around and soon found drummer and ex-bassist Julien Peterson; they found Adam Kahan to play the bass Peterson had abandoned and second guitarist Billysteve Korpi and with that a raucous powerhouse had been rounded out and worked up.
They weren’t just a lonely band without a home long: soon their musical stylings caught the attention of Saustex – a label also in Austin, TX, who released their self-titled debut, as well as a vinyl 7 inch a year or so later. Their music reached further than they even expected – not only did their stuff resonate with indie music lovers who were (and many times are) starving for more, better and new stuff. Even the suits in L.A. somehow found them out and next thing you know, the song from their debut, “Rimbaud Didley” shows up on the F/X hit cult series, Sons of Anarchy, two seasons ago. So you know that when your music ends up being part of a soundtrack to an episode of a hit show with a loyal, intense following, you can finally smile and say “whew” – but there’s a fine line between licensing your music to a show or movie and letting your material be pimped out for a commercial (there’s an excellent song by Primus, from their Green Naughahyde album a couple years ago that deals with that situation perfectly – HOINFORDAMAN). Never, ever, ever give any company or ad agency permission or license to use any of your music for an ad. That is just shameless and there’s no excuse for “ho-in’ for the man – the advertising man…”
To acquaint you out there with a few tunes to whet your appetites – Well, the opening cut, “Duende” is a romp, one that gets your toes tapping and puts you in the right mindset. “The Devil in Me” is a sexual innuendo that shows that the nasty is naughty and the naughty feels right. “You Be The Mountain (I’ll Be Mohammed)” has this wah-wah guitar that is reminiscent of the soundtrack to Shaft, other 70s soul/rock but breaks into a rockin’ chorus. Speaking as I did of Primus before, this tune here is one that uses the eclectic instrumentation that Primus uses, but without the latter’s harder-edged qualities. “You be the mountain/I’ll be Mohammed/Come to me” is the mantra of the tune. Then, on “Money Shot Man” has a very different texture than “You Be the Mountain”, starting out with a slowed down mellowness, then kicking up some dirt and gravel and back and forth.
All in all, this album 2 is an excellent indication that Churchwood aren’t just a two-horse band, but that they have a barn-load of eccentricities to unload on what should be a good-sized fan base and in time turn them into the “cult” band that always has a devoted set of fans who are going to spread the gospel of the Church(wood) to the many. Although lots won’t “get it” – but who needs ’em anyway, right? Just as long as these cats keep true to what I’m hearing now and on the last couple releases (both the debut CD and the 7″ vinyl EP). If you think that “indie” is getting stale -well, for one thing, you aren’t looking very hard – but also, Churchwood can fill any hole or void you’re trying to saturate. -KM