I have been immersed lately in the last volume of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, simply titled The Dark Tower. The series is a gothic fantasy western based on an epic poem by Robert Browning called Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came. The book is set in a world where the hero is a mix of King Arthur and Clint Eastwood, where Excalibur is a six-shooter with a sandalwood grip, and where old gods are worshipped. If the book were to have a soundtrack, that music would have to embody all of the facets and depths within such an epic series.
The soundtrack would have to be equally as gothic, shadows and darkness abound, with little to cheer the soul but the hope that something greater than oneself is watching over you and calling the shots. It would have to embody what is called the `fear of God’ where fear means both terror and awe. Finally, it would have to be mysterious and spooky, a sound not quite at home in the usual genres, touching just the fringes of what is `normal.’ Essentially, it would have to be Woven Hand’s Consider the Birds.
Woven Hand is the pseudonym for the solo work of one David Eugene Edwards, otherwise known as the singer for the alt-country band 16 Horsepower. If you’re looking for some hint to what the solo work revolves around, one need look no further than the name Woven Hand, which is a reference to prayer. Add to that the fact that Edwards is the son of a Nazarene preacher and his albums are housed on Daniel Smith’s Sounds Familyre label and you have a much better sense. Woven Hand is for sure based in Edwards’ Christian beliefs, but to simply leave it at that would do a disservice to his music. Just as Johnny Cash sings of his beliefs, there are many other themes at work in both of the artists’ compositions.
Consider the Birds is in one sense like Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came in that it itself is somewhat of an epic poem, albeit set to gorgeously dark music. It can be compared to other thematic epic poems such as The Rime of the Ancient Mariner as well. Each song, in at least the first half of the album, features bird references and imagery of some sort, from the sparrow and lark in “Sparrow Falls” to the doves of “Oil on Panel”. These birds fly in and out of Edwards’ hymns to above, witnessing the goings on below.
The music that Edwards and his band create is Southern Gothic folk at its best, its darkest, and sometimes its creepiest. At times it sounds like Nick Cave with the Red Right Hand of a murderer substituted with the fear (remember both definitions) of the Hand of God. At other times, as in “Bleary Eyed Duty”, it sounds like Remy Zero after a year of reading nothing but William Faulkner. Then, “To Make a Ring” comes and sounds like Pink Floyd’s “One of These Days”, although instead of being cut into little pieces, the end result is a circle of followers around God.
For years, Christian themed music has been subjugated to being `uncool’, tossed aside as the work of `in-your-face’ proselytizers who know their audience and cater to them unendingly. What has come in the wake of Daniel Smith’s label formation is a horde of brilliant musicians and songwriters who present another side of the genre. Sufjan Stevens’ Seven Swans is one of the best albums of the year, with or without the `Christian’ label. Add to that Woven Hand’s Consider the Birds, a daring and innovative work from an accomplished artist who boldly defies the boundaries of stereotype. Whereas with most `Christian’ music the lyrics are the main attraction and the music an afterthought, Edwards puts the two on a par, with dark and entrancing music standing alongside poetic and literary lyrics.
I said before, in my review of Seven Swans, that if Sufjan Stevens played the music at my church, I might never have left. The same holds true for Woven Hand, except I could think of no church that would be bold enough to have him. Oddly enough, with the music that Edwards has created for this album, I could easily see it being used for meetings of snake handlers. The music evokes images of stark landscapes with lone wood plank barns, sawdusted floors, and parishioners writhing in the throes of religious ecstasy. It is music for an X-Files episode, directed by David Lynch and scored with the darker side of Angelo Badalamenti, the scenes in One-Eyed Jacks of Twin Peaks as opposed to the theme music of Inside the Actor’s Studio. And just to buck stereotype yet again, Edwards’ lyrics are not fire and brimstone as one might expect upon hearing the instrumentation. Instead, the words are words of reverence, inspiration, love, but most of all, fear.
Nick Cave- The Boatman’s Call
Sufjan Stevens- Seven Swans
Johnny Cash- Love, God, Murder