Monday, August 17, 2009

Gospel Claws - 'Gospel Claws'

Those who try out Gospel Claws’ self-titled EP shouldn’t be surprised if it bears a resemblance to Arizona indie rockers Dear and the Headlights (not to mention the Walkmen, Rufus Wainwright, and just about any Saddle Creek folk outfit). Former Headlighter Joel Marquard is the central brain trust behind this soul-inflected rock group. Given that he only left his former band because of its intense touring schedule, it’s perhaps natural that Marquard, aided by four other musicians, would pick up where he sonically left off in 2007.

Which is a good thing. Gospel Claws is a promising debut, boasting five earthy, rolling tunes steeped in American rock history. It’s not particularly religious, but it helps if you can tolerate the occasional God reference, at least in a “woe is me” sense. Case in point: The first lyric of the first song is “God keeps me alive / So you can laugh at my life.” Vague Christian assertions aside, these guys sound more like a streamlined Portgual. The Man circa Censored Colors than DC Talk.

Not that these guys ever try to get prog-y like Portugal. Gospel Claws writes pretty straightforward songs that blend a lot of elements. It’s sort of soulful in bits, but it’s also atmospheric and sullen. Closing track “Don’t Let It Die” even goes into bluesy territory. Co-songwriter/co-vocalist Sloan Walters has a voice slightly reminiscent of Isaac Brock without the bite (think “Ocean Breathes Salty” instead of “Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine”), whereas Marquard has more of a froggy, Wainwright/Boz Scaggs thing going on.

While the group could stand to have a little more punch – if at least to justify the second half of its name – Gospel Claws’ debut is filler-free. And it not only continues the Dear and the Headlights sound, but it does so under a vastly superior moniker.

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