The Choir: Burning Like the Midnight Sun

I won’t pretend that I am unbiased here.  That would be a total waste of time and a lie.  I mean, this is Choir week on my blog after all.  This month, the Choir…my most beloved band of all time… released a new CD.  Five years after the wonderful O How the Mighty Have Fallen, the band steps forward with a new release.  I confess, I have not followed as obsessively as I use to…if not for a Facebook posting a month back I would have missed this entirely.  But boy am I glad to say I did not.

Burning Like the Midnight Sun was a surprise.  It flows naturally both musically and lyrically from their last release, but is not simply a repeat of the last album.  The opening track seems to be a declaration of the band’s unwillingness to fade… singing in the forceful but gentle way that few other singers can, Derri Daughtery declares “I’m not gonna sink into the ocean, Baby I am here to stay, burning like the midnight sun.”  The music never seems to rise past a calm loop, but it propels the listener along anyways.

The light almost cheery music that fills That Melancholy Ghost is evocative of the Choir’s mid 90’s efforts,especially Free Flying Soul.  It’s topic of the ever changing emotions of children is somewhat resonant for me as I anticipate becoming an uncle by the start of the new year.  Children ca turn from happy to loud and screaming banshees in a sudden and unexpected moment.

The musically plodding, but entertaining Mr. Chandler re-tells a true event from the Choir’s past involving a rather belligerent ticket agent.  Along those lines is a song the Legend of Old Man Byrd which was written for a birthday celebration for Marc Byrd (of Common Children and the Choir).  Having become close friends the Choir writes this touching tribute to Marc.  Hint to my family and friends.  Want to get me a neat gift for some future birthday?  Hire the Choir to write a song for me.

I love the soft Between Bare Trees.  As usual, Hindalong finds poetic ways to express the detours of relationship and the rough conditions they sometimes weather.  Few seem to pay tributes to friends like the Choir, who remember the late Tom Howard (who died in January) with a Friend So Kind.  Derri softly intones:

So now you’ve gone away
In a sudden Gust of wind
And we’re sadder Than hell
‘Cause we miss you dear friend
Still it’s good to know your great heart
Is Glad and restored
Forever smokin’ fine cigars at the table of the Lord
At the table of the Lord

I just love that kind of imagery…really I do.  Frankly, most portrayals of “being in Heaven” make God seem so beyond distant, it hardly seems worthwhile.  It’s what makes Hey Gene such a joyful tune.  The next three songs offer the closest the Choir comes to social and political commentary.

I’m So Sorry I Laughed is a song that shamefully expresses regret for laughing when other people suffer..

I’m sorry
I laughed when you fell
So hard

But it is The Word Inside the Word and It Should have Been Obvious that may result in the band garnering criticism.  But I found these the most uplifting and inspiring.  Derri sings:

The message is not a curse
A weapon of ancient verse
Come out of the Dark Age
Turn the light on
the light on
I’ve already heard enough
To know what I am certain of
The word inside the Word is “Love”

What a powerful statement in the phrase that the message is not a curse.  Of course, it’s calling of listeners to step outside their own dogmas may ruffle the feather of some.  But I found the calling out to seek the “word” inside of the “The Word”.  And then there is It Should Have Been Obvious.  Hindalong has noted the lyric was born of hearing a preacher state that it should have been obvious to Christians that slavery was wrong, yet, many people who claimed the Christian faith willingly owned slaves.  It was not obvious to them.  The Christian faith has become tied over and over again to people and nations to the point that Christianity has become not salvation and hope for heart broken people, but a weapon to over run and oppress indigenous peoples and increase people and nations’ power.  It should have been obvious to Christians that using the Gospel to oppress and chain people down… to rule with death and destruction is wrong…yet even today there are Christians who believe the answer to Islamic extremists is to attack and Christianize all Muslims in the middle east.

And of course, there is Steve’s lyric in which he begs forgiveness for being:
The self appointed judge of your own orientation
I studied law at the blind man’s school
Of cruel indoctrination

I have seen some try and debate what “orientation” really means.  But I have a hard time believing Steve is writing about something other than homosexuality.  I get why some want to try and make the meaning a bit fuzzy, but I am just relieved to see it being talked about with an open heart.  There is a nice call back to Chase the Kangaroo in the lyric “Mercy is the silver pearl buried in our hearts.”

I cannot begin to suggest what Invisible is about though I suspect it relates to charming deceivers.  Say Goodbye to Neverland is a really well constructed tune about how “you cannot go back to how it was” and now you must face the world and it’s challenge as it is today.   Simply stated, Derri sings:

No, you can’t return
To a world of innocence
Think of all you have learned
Time to take your medicine

This is one of my favorite albums, right up there with Circle Slide and Chase the Kangaroo, that the Choir has put out.  Dan Michaels’ lyricon work adds a unique atmosphere to the tracks and Chandler shows himself to be a real artist with the bass guitar.  And along with a terrific set of songs, there is the excellent packaging.Ron Lyon presents a beautiful cover that is used well throughout the packaging.  Parts of the cover are raised, giving the album cover a texture.  Instead of being a bland digipack case, the band packs artwork into every inch of the case-including the lyric book.

Burning Like the Midnight Sun is worthy of purchase, both by Choir fans and people wondering where to start.  You can get it through the band or Amazon or iTunes.

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