Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

What's this gospel doing in my indie?

April 19, 2009

I freely admit it – I’m not very qualified to review a gospel album. I love Elvis’s His Hand in Mine, but that’s probably not a very fair comparison to make. (That’d be like comparing a local painter to Michelangelo.) I’m also a big Ray Charles fan, but his music is only gospel-influenced – it’s not actually gospel. I’ve heard a few gospel singers perform live before, and I’ve always been impressed by their sheer technical ability, but I don’t really know anything about the current gospel scene. However, when Will McGowan sent his album Peace Be Still to Independent Clauses, he showed some serious spunk. (We’ll rule out confusion and misunderstanding.) I admire his aplomb, so I decided to challenge myself with a gospel review.

The album is not exactly what I was expecting, probably because I don’t think I’ve heard any new gospel songs. The modernity of Will McGowan’s music definitely threw me off a little at first. There is drum or percussion programming in every song, which kind of makes the music sound like 90s R&B. (But perhaps that was what he was going for?) One song even has a short rap (“Have Your Way”). That said, however, the album’s songwriting is more original than that music of a lot of Christian rock bands, with their insistence on this structure: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, chorus a cappella, chorus with an instrumental build-up, chorus repeated ad nauseum. McGowan wrote, co-wrote, or arranged all the songs on Peace Be Still, and there is impressive songwriting ability showcased in the album. The thirteen tracks have a consistency and a similar feel, but are all subtly different.

McGowan’s voice is smooth and easy to listen to. He sings in an effortless way that is pleasant and not too showy. I like the songs that feature female background singers, such as “All I Need is You,” because they balance the artificiality of the drum machine. In addition, the strongest tracks are the ones that feature “real” instruments, so my advice to Will McGowan would be to think about maybe rounding up some more musicians. My favorite song from Peace Be Still is the ballad “I Can Call You Friend,” where McGowan plays piano. I think his music would be a lot stronger if he kept things as simple and clean as he does in this song, but overall, this release from Will McGowan is solid and shows a lot of promise.

Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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