Wovenhand: Ten Stones

By: Dennis Cook

Forthrightly spiritual in much the same way as recent Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Wovenhand smiles at God's beautiful axe coming down on their head. Unafraid, exuberant and fierce, Ten Stones (released September 9 on Sounds Familyre) pours on electricity and revival meeting energy. There's little of the jet black darkness that bandleader David Eugene Edwards brings to his critically acclaimed other band, 16 Horsepower. Oh, this ain't chipper territory but the sense of relentless engagement with massive, even cosmic ideas – always couched in an intimacy that's often downright physical – is, in a word, uplifting. If the marching orders are "onward Christian soldiers," this is a mighty fine drum 'n' fife to move boots into the Valley of Death. Sometimes a little bleak or elusive, Edwards exudes passion and purpose throughout Ten Stones.

This debunks the codification of gospel music, snatching away the harps and choirs and replacing them with reverberant power chords, punishing tom toms and a yearning delivery that echoes nothing so much as Walt Whitman's songs to the Lord. There's even a slightly bent '60s Julie London style pop ode, "Quiet Night of Quiet Stars," that sings directly to God, "I was lost and lonely/ believing life was only/ a bitter, tragic joke/ I've found with you/ the meaning of existence/ oh, my love." This is immediately followed by the snarling two-minute warning shot of "Kicking Bird," which adds barbed wire and apocalyptic fear to a groove Sisters of Mercy might have cooked up in their heyday.

At the risk of hyperbole, this may be rock's finest contribution to skyward pondering since Cave and the Bad Seeds hurled Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus on us in 2004. Sitting somewhere near the end of dreams and the tip of desire, this release bottles ecclesiastical gusto in a musically stirring new vintage.

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[Published on: 10/7/08]

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