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The Laughing Stalk
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Artist
Release Date
September 11, 2012
Label
Sounds Familyre

For a long time, making it in secular markets as a Christian artist meant toning down the Jesus talk. On the assumption that a hefty percentage of the listening public would bolt at the faintest whiff of God-rock, record labels played down their Christian musicians' religious angle as much as possible, when they didn't resort to euphemisms like "positive" and "uplifting."

Wovenhand's David Eugene Edwards and his label, Sounds Familyre, do no such thing. Instead, over a decade of albums, including his latest, The Laughing Stalk, Edwards has written songs with boldly Christian messages. The language of his lyrics can be downright Puritan in its devotion: ""Hail, hail, hail the high king of heaven / Christ Jesus, ruler of all." And he plays for audiences who often wouldn't know John Bunyan from Paul Bunyan.

In 2010 the alt-metal band Tool, a group known for graphic content in its lyrics and album art, brought Wovenhand on tour as its opening act. On the more genteel end of the secular sonic spectrum, NPR invited Edwards to perform for the Tiny Desk Concert video series. So how is it that Edwards—in Wovenhand and also in his previous band, 16 Horsepower—is more at home with church outsiders than he is with those in CCM circles? What is it about his combination of lyrics and melody that appeals to music fans who don't share his worldview? How does he get away with it when so many others don't?

It comes down to consistently high standards of artistry. Edwards uses minor keys, theatrical vocals and a prominently featured, nylon-stringed mandolin/banjo hybrid from the 1880s to create a distinctive, instantly recognizable sound. The mood is often dark, even menacing at times, which is one reason Wovenhand appeals to fans of Tool and other heavy acts. You'll hear the influence of musicians like Nick Cave and Jim Morrison, but the sound isn't derivative. "New" doesn't necessarily equate to "good," but Wovenhand pulls it off. Edwards fits in right alongside fellow trailblazers and Sounds Familyre label mates Sufjan Stevens and Danielson.

Wovenhand's brooding vibe and penchant for King James terminology (locutions like "hath," "thou," and "thy" abound) give the music an otherworldly feel—like hearing songs unearthed from a forgotten civilization where the mando-banjo once reigned. It's strikingly different from most music labeled "Christian rock," and that stylistic contrast has the effect of prying open the minds of listeners who would otherwise never be caught dead listening to "Christian bands." This leap outside the box takes creative ambition and more than a little risk on the part of the songwriter. Daniel Smith probably got some funny looks when he first began singing in that pinched, nasal falsetto with Danielson Famile, and bluegrass purists likely scoffed at how Sufjan Stevens played his banjo on Seven Swans.

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The Laughing Stalk