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Ask Me This

I recently saw Alcoholic Faith Mission at a gig in Portland, Oregon and after the show told their manager that an American band could never do what they do. He was horrified. The only way I could explain it was to add, in the same way Europeans cannot play bluegrass. Then he understood. See, there is something about different countries which make the culture an integral part of the music (and vice-versa) and let's face it, the United States could never have produced much of the music spawned by European or African or Asian bands. If an American band could do what AFM did in Portland, Americans would be crawling all over each other to see them. Like I said in my review, they put on one of the best live shows I have ever seen.

When I listened to their latest CD, Ask Me This, I was surprised at what I heard. Not many bands could start out with a vocal choir start straight out of Singers Unlimited, throw in an aura of early Peter Gabriel and later Talking Heads, mix it up with a feel of the seventies bands out of Europe such as Focus and Alquin and even Abba and come out the other end with something new and refreshing. But they did.

The hauntingly jazzy vocals of Down From Here are a triumphant beginning to the album, slow and ethereal, giving way to a light rhythm and a crescendo, almost a prelude. No, definitely a prelude because what follows is as well a laid-out sequence of songs as I've heard from anyone. Alaska follows, a mid-tempo light rocker, Abba-like in the verse and yet not in the chorus. Its beat lends itself to both an intense wall of rock sound surrounding lighter rock moments. The piano intro to Into Pieces, along with the odd vocal embellishments, almost threw me, but this has become (next to the closer Throw Us To the Wolves) a go-to track when I need a pick-me-up (here is a video of the song you might not want to see, but what the hell, huh?) and while that ends cold (meaning it does not fade or segue), Statement makes it seem like it does, the song an intro and fade-in to a cinematic song of pure beauty (I'm Not Evil), the vocals carrying us away. One cannot help but hear the significance of lyrics married to the chorus (?Everyone is changing here except me? followed by ?I'm not evil...?). Running With Insanity has its own cinematic fade-in, possibly played on an accordion, a perfect foil for the chorus (?I might be insane...?) before Ask Me This hits you like a sledgehammer right between the eyes. It is not the power. It is the power of words and music. (To understand, watch the video). Another adventurous beginning, keyboard-style, sets up another cinematic approach to music, Reconstruct My Love, a song made for film, intended or not, which leads to the very Euro-sounding We Need Fear, a song that floored me when I heard it live. Which leaves us with the closing number (and I say 'closing' because it is an exuberant ending to a really fine album), Throw Us To the Wolves, the beginning of the song pure setup for the driving and overwhelming finale. At the Doug Fir Lounge, I was planted against my seat with sound and when it ended, felt exhilarated and at the same time, deflated. From Down From Here to Throw Us To the Wolves in ten steps. Whew!

I probably should have waited to write this review because I am still digesting the music, but that might take forever and I want to spread the word. Alcoholic Faith Mission's Ask Me This is an absolute killer of an album. Put it on. Turn it up. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some people to email and call. And stay tuned. When they record and release a new album or they tour the States again, I'll have it covered. I think I'll be following these guys until they split up or I die, whichever comes first. I hope I didn't jinx them because I would hate it if they split up. Absolutely hate it.

Frank O. Gutch Jr.

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