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Efrim Menuck has had a widely respected career with Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Silver Mt. Zion but he continues to evolve album to album, almost song to song. With his his solo debut, Menuck doesn’t shy away from anything. The first song, “Our Lady Of Parc Extension And Her Munificent Sorrows”, would be an excellent contribution to Silver Mt. Zion if not for it being softer and only clocking in at 7:01, a pop song compared to his regular output. Menuck’s voice blends in rather than tries to overpower the tapestry of sounds weaved into the composition, along with the lovely violin playing of SMZ bandmate and mother of his child Jessica Moss, makes this opener a real treat. The second vocal track, “Heavy Calls And Hospital Blues”, is the barest of all the songs with Menuck’s melancholy singing over a piano. For an album called Plays ‘High Gospel’, there isn’t much on the records that approaches that kind of music except the choral-predominant remembrance of Menuck collaborator, labelmate, and late American folk anti-hero Vic Chesnutt called “Kaddish For Chesnutt,” (“The Kaddish” is a Jewish prayer of mourning for those that didn’t know). The closer, “I Am No Longer A Motherless Child,” is a touching tale (a tale consisting of the same two lines repeated but touching nonetheless) of a man becoming a father and knowing that his own childhood shortcomings no longer matter.
Normally, one can close their eyes and listen to GY!BE or SMZ and let the music wash over them as a sort of religious experience but the emotions the listener felt came from within. The connection is different for each fan. With High Gospel, Menuck’s own emotions radiate throughout, allowing a more personal connection to the audience. Is this because, for the first time, he is not surrounded by at least 5 other collaborators and bandmates to bounce ideas off of? I’d like to think that he took the opportunity to create the most unfiltered and soul-fulfilling creative piece that he could conceive. With only half of the album featuring vocals, with the other half serving as rich interludes, the Gospel of Efrim Manuel Menuck is a series of hymns worth preaching.
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