Retribution Gospel Choir | 2
Most Likely To: take an unsentimental journey to resurrect some of the ’70s best rock
Alan Sparhawk has never troubled much over stereotypes. Although he fronts the much-loved slowcore trio Low, he is a Mormon who makes his home in Minnesota, and is married to fellow band mate Mimi Parker with whom he has two children. All this incongruity makes his more traditional rock side project the Retribution Gospel Choir that much more enjoyable. Sparhawk is no Ronnie James Dio wannabe; he is simply giving in to the undeniable force created by guitar, drums, and bass that Low has created a career out of skillfully stifling.
Sparhawk joins with Low bassist Steve Garrington and drummer Eric Pollard to release 2, the follow-up to the band’s self-titled debut (2008). The lead track, “Hide it Away,” layers surging guitars over near falsetto vocal harmonies reminiscent of Choir of Young Believers, and is by far the most modern-feeling song on the record. On “Working Hard,” Sparhawk channels his inner Zevon, creating a worthy nugget of power pop before shifting gears into more expansive art rock territory on “Working Man’s Daughter.” The vocals on some of the tracks (“White Wolf”) and the guitar riffs on others (“Your Bird,” “Electric Guitar”) are unapologetically derivative, but the songs make up in sheer velocity what they lack in originality. The only true misstep is “Bless Us All,” whose histrionic vocals and uninspired lyrics play princess to Freddy Mercury’s Queen: “We were pawns in a fairy tale … Put our hearts in the promised land / We buried ourselves / in the arms of our enemies / so the last thing I need / is a lover.”
2 feels like it was motivated only by love for the music (as opposed to say, a misplaced desire to jump around stage in a mesh tank top and gather up backstage groupies à la David Lee Roth). So, it’s easy to take Retribution Gospel Choir at face value when they mine the rich tradition of power trios from Genesis to Triumph. These boys have a little rocking to do, and anyone raised on or near a classic rock radio station can gladly follow them on their sojourn. It’s much better than actually listening to the radio because classic rock radio stations and their immutable play lists are forever. Spin the radio dial and I bet you can find a station playing Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” right this minute.
Watch the video for “Hide It Away” from Retribution Gospel Choir: