. issue XXIII : vi .
By the loose standards, or paradigms, that seem to be developing, here’s a another one for the ‘goat-hair tent prog’ camp. Now, before I bury myself, let’s stop there briefly. That appellation came by way of a serious passenger, and though it might seem flippant at first, it cuts to the heart of the matter. Underneath the obvious sense of humor —and wink— to it, there’s a real honing in on what makes albums like Raising Holy Sparks’ A Mendicant Hymnal a shimmering example. What it really means, for pilgrims like Raising Holy Sparks and outfits like Mountains, Anvil Salute, Date Palms, and label-mates Evening Fires … is that there are some serious, and traditional, knots in the tree rings … even when the songs seem to be effortlessly eschewing conventional form as much as expectation. There’s a decidedly rural (for lack of a better word and vocabulary) spine running through them, intertwining the humanist and the spiritual. Whether it’s the instrumentation, folk foundations and mutations, intent, execution or simply the bones of the song, there’s a definite leaning towards embers smoldering or raging flames. Not that things aren’t susceptible to blazes at any given moment (check the slow ride out on “Within the Painted Desert”), but if there are you can be sure it will be accompanied with an intoxicating smoke that makes you breathe even deeper rather than choking. And as your lungs expand, so do the vistas that the music conjures up, dwarfed only by the panoramas blossoming between your ears. Open your ears and watch the” Meteors Over the Mesa” where those two environments coexist, with yourself right smack dab in the middle of the overlap with a full 360° view. It’s all big music, even in the quietest of moments, yet full of space. Space you can breathe in, either here on grounded Mother Earth or up there where suspension replaces oxygen. That right there is a shared perspective, a perspective that can look up, deeply, and move into it without forgetting the view below of a starry night. Or the wood for the trees if the band is so inclined. Does this mean they sound alike, a singular soundtrack to a transcendental Groundhog Day? Hell no. Not anymore than anything else we cram into a requisite pigeonhole. It’s a vibe that is both planetary and intimate, and one with endless tributaries, as well as confluences (as luck would have it, that’s a position you can take “At The Confluence Of The Potomac & Shenandoah”). Though not without willing and substantial revisits on our part, ones that breeze through the doldrums easily, morphing and assimilating themselves as they make successive grasps to maintain motion without sacrificing drift.
The musicians have this to say: “Inspired by 7000 miles of travel across 30 states, A Mendicant Hymnal draws on the vast & ever-changing American landscape, from the mountains & deserts of the West through the empty plains & onto the endless forests of the East. The first in a continuing series, trying to get, in the words of Edward Abbey, ‘close to the West of my deepest imaginings, the place where the tangible & the mythical became the same.’”
Raising Holy Sparks is, fundamentally, David Colohan of United Bible Studies and Agitated Radio Pilot. In every way, A Mendicant Hymnal comes across as a deeply personal album, even a journey. And in no way does that make it insular or impenetrable to passers-by. Colohan’s “epic slow-motion electro-acoustic soundscapes” not only envelop, they embrace. Any feelings of mournfulness or longing that might arise through these deep devotional drones quickly dissipate through a sifter that scatters stars and spirits in equal measure. By the time the waters of the Potomac and the Shenandoah have been crossed, the enigmatic “Plains of Kansas” or “A Stretch of Haunted Road” walked, or the wounds licked, swaddled and healed in “Shadow City, Missouri,” A Mendicant Hymnal —for intimate it is— simply doesn’t belong to Raising Holy Sparks anymore. Whatever journey it takes you on, it’s yours as much as it is Colohan’s. The universality of it doesn’t just allow that, it encourages it. Contemplative, spiritual, and ‘holy’ transcendent, A Mendicant Hymnal is far richer than its order’s subscribers claim to be. Whatever amount you put into their hands or collection plate is returned tenfold, at the very least. Here’s to sharing the wealth.
by Mr. Atavist