Like everyone during these surreal days, bands with completed albums are struggling to plan ahead. The Eagle Rock Gospel Singers can’t tour to promote “I Will Rise,” the Matt Wignall-produced album they tentatively plan to release by late summer/early fall, so they’re releasing singles online.
This week they’ve been finishing a video for fourth single “In the Well.” With its introspective verses and uplifting chorus, the song’s a dynamic showcase for Lashon Halley’s elastic vocals, Jeremy Long’s atmospheric pedal steel fills, and the pillowy harmonies of Ashley Adler, Andrea Chita, and Christina Wilson.
“It was a big team effort,” bandleader Will Wadsworth says of the “confessional narrative” he wrote with guitarist Jeremy Horton. “It’s about loneliness, unreciprocated love, everything that comes from that, and wondering whether or not there will be an end to those feelings, whether by way of a relationship or finding complete peace as a solo being. It’s really about the hope and the belief that the pain of all that will end.”
That description of hope transcending hardship broadly applies to all of “I Will Rise,” a stirring distillation of the band’s indie-rock and early 20th-century gospel, blues, and Appalachian folk influences. Several of its 13 songs seemingly respond to life in a time of pandemic despite being composed before the current lockdown. That’s particularly true of the title track, which ESPN licensed last week for a commercial, and recent single “Leave Town” (“I’ve got nothing that can put me on my feet/ I wanna leave town … although I know that everything will run me down”).
“These songs are really personal … or about people very close to us,” Wadsworth says. “The more specific that we got, the weird thing that happened was that [some] became more universal.”
Their messages resonate amid today’s tense uncertainty, even with listeners of different beliefs. Many people who identify as agnostic are drawn to music exploring spiritual themes — a cognitive dissonance Wadsworth has observed and experienced. Even before he embraced Christian beliefs while in college, he says, he held an “extreme love for gospel music,” especially early 20th-century blues and country gospel that was “deeply honest about the human condition” and to him represented cathartic release.
“Sometimes it was frustration [artists] were trying to relieve themselves of, and sometimes it was absolute joy and celebration for the grace they felt they had received — the forgiveness, the promise of a bright future,” he says. “I think no matter what you believe, no matter where you’re coming from, we all want those things. We all need to be relieved of stress and fear and things that will just eat us alive if we let them. …
“There’s this beautiful river of music where all of these things are connected. Some of the greatest early rock ‘n’ roll is absolutely straight from the church,” he observes, citing Ray Charles, Johnny Cash, Little Richard, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. “Some of the coolest early rock ‘n’ roll, early jazz, early folk and blues — it’s all very gospel-oriented. You can hear it. You can see it. It’s there.”
For more about the Eagle Rock Gospel Singers, visit theeaglerockgospelsingers.org.
The video for the new single: “In the Well” —