Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir
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Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir


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"Uncut, September, 2008"

Better off with Ten Thousand, the third album from the rambuctious Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir. By the cut of their bone-rattling blues and gruff vocals, this four-piece seem dredged from the same Delta mud as Howlin' Wolf and Skip James, but they're actually a bunch of beardy white Canadians. "Never Be Dead" and the great slide guitar of "Empire State Express" sound both thrilling and alarmingly authentic. They do old-time country, too, best served by the raw, Dock Boggs-like "10,000 Years".
4 outta 5 - Uncut magazine, England

"Independent on Sunday, August 17, 2008"

The JackBands with a surreal bent have a tendency to call themselves something they're not, so you won't be surprised to hear that this Canadian quartet are neither a gospel choir nor from the mountains. Their sound is a scary mesh of mistreated guitar, brutally plucked banjo, growling vocals and junkyard percussion. They've resurrected the spirit of the Mississippi Delta only to beat it senseless and drive it out of town. Even the tempos are extreme: songs either lumber along like overburdened donkeys, or hurtle by like out-of-control jalopies. A whisky-sodden joy from beginning to end. - London Independent

"Daily Mirror, August 8, 2008"

Belfast's Open House festival helped dynamic whirlwind Seasick Steve to fame and fortune. It's not hard to hear why Canadian roots rockers AMGC - another band given a platform there - became Seasick's favourite. Their raw mountain music, to be sung round the campfire with moonshine in the jar and taters in the skillet, is a real tonic for listeners bored with over-produced, soulless fodder. Sing along, loudly.
4 outta 5
- Daily Mirror, London, UK

"Time Out, London, August 4, 2008"

'It's as popular with teenagers as with 80 year olds,' claims bass player Vladimir Sobolewski. 'Because it's so down-home-y, there's something about our sound everyone can relate to.' In truth, Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir are far more likely to appeal to fans of artists like Seasick Steve (who dubbed them his 'new favourite band' back in 2006) than to those of say, The Pigeon Detectives, but we know whose taste we'd rather trust.

The Calgary quartet's third LP is an impressively raw and red-blooded, thrillingly gritty affair that betrays a contemporary punk spirit alongside its rootsy and roisterous, blues/folk authenticity, lining up next to Tom Waits, Wovenhand, The Boggs and O'Death as well as Son House, Skip James and Mississippi Fred McDowell. Steeped though it is in the Delta blues and Appalachian traditions, 'Ten Thousand' is not an homage to AMGC's heroes, but rather a bunch of spirited interpretations that kick serious ass. The righteous 'Dark Holler' is just that, while 'Rainstorms in My Knees' even has a whiff of ZZ Top to it. If none of this appeals, your soul is truly lost.
4 outta 5 - Time Out magazine

", August 7, 2008"

If like me you like yer Blues raw and rustic like Seasick Steve, then the Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir is for you. This awesome combo – there’s four of them – Peter Balkwill on drums, gravel-necked singer Bob Keelaghan on guitar and pianer, Judd Palmer on banjo, slide guitar, trombone, piano, harmonica, and Vlad Sobolewski on bass, trombone, can really muster up a storm.

Thrown together in just a week before their inaugural gig, this Canadian quartet fuse exhilarating Delta blues with sharp mountain music. From Calgary (home of the 1988 Winter Olympics) Alberta Canada, these guys play their music based on pre-WWII blues and mountain music adding their own unique twist. There’s a pretty impressive start to this classic album. By their own admission, Go Back Home is in the Delta-Appalachian-country-blues-death tradition. Strumming acoustic guitar leads to cluttering percussion and thumping beat layered by bursts of harmonica. It’s a great hook for the album. Equally as cluttered and slow-boogie like, the rousing The Boig is from the same style, as is the chugging Nehemiah’s Misfortune with extensive banjo playing by Judd Palmer. The porch slow blues of Rainstorms In My Knees is far more measured and sophisticated, well, as sophisticated this bunch of musical ruffians can get. Moving over to the bluegrass template, the frenetic You Got It Wrong rushes by at break-neck speed. They hit the quirkier side of their repertoire with the heavy blues-gospel tinged Taking It Out, whereas Dumb It Down fuses street corner blues incorporating slide guitar overdubs, with the storming Never Be Dead taking on a jug band sound. They’ve also done some covers just for good measure: Sleepy John Estes’s straight forward blues boogie Stop That Thing from 1935, would make a great single for breaking them in the UK. An employee at New York Central, Eddie James ‘Son’ House’s 1965 thumping blues romp Empire State Express is given a new lease of life.

Right at the end, they revert back to some rollicking bluegrass, for the thunderous 10,000 Years.

File under : Must, must have.
5 outta 5 -

"fRoots, October, 2008"

Four Canadians, who are neither a choir nor gospel, make a bluesy racket that sounds like how I imagine the Mount Rushmore carvings would if they came to life: big, monolithic fun with Beefheart/Waits-style vocals. If you’re into fripperies such as chord changes within songs this may not be for you, but for the rest of us it’s pretty damn good, even if it leaves you feeling pulverised by the end. - fRoots magazine

"Vue, Edmonton, July 31, 2008"

Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir, Ten Thousand (Shoutin’ Abner Pim) Calgary’s Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir recorded its third album, Ten Thousand, at Sundae Sound Studios in the group’s hometown. On the band’s website, there’s a suggestion in a months-old posting that, because it was tracked in a “proper” recording studio, the new record probably won’t sound lo-fi.

For fans of the band’s previous albums, that’s a terrifying notion. Many a group has been polished up only to find that all the life has been swept out of the music. Oh, sure, there are some bands that can take a little cleaning up, clearing the road ahead for the vision that’s been clouded by the less-than-clean production.

Turns out that the Mountain Choir doesn’t clean up so good after all, though, and that’s a relief. There are plenty of musicians around these days who have a certain affinity for old-timey music, but modern recording conventions often get the better of them and the music collapses under the weight of a processed sound.

On Ten Thousand, the Mountain Choir’s songs creek and crack, groaning and straining not beneath the pressure of proper recording equipment, but under the weight of the whole modern world. It seems that you can take this band out of the lo-fi, but you can’t take the lo-fi out of the Choir.

The new record is nothing like a reinvention of the band’s sound—the circular rhythms and coarse and ragged chanted vocals are still there at the heart of each track. The Choir simply focuses on the songs, making each one sound as old as time itself, like the sort of tune that has been handed down between family and friends for generations, and which is only now being captured on tape by some intrepid field-recorder who has marched up and over a hundred hills to find the band.

This band is no one-trick pony, though; push your way into the record and there’s a remarkable degree of subtlety on display as the players work a variety of dynamics into the music with a minimal number of notes, letting the music breathe (and occasionally even gasp and choke). “Taking It Out” rattles with drum sticks throughout, growing into a rolling monster over the course of three and a half minutes as the vocals growl, “I ain’t talkin’ with you / I’m taking it out,” practically spitting fire with each line.

A few tracks later, “Never Be Dead” sounds a little like something that trickled out of New Orleans and up into the mountains, with a trombone punctuating the jumping rhythm behind the rattling drums and scraping slide guitar. It’s not a funeral march, but the spirit is similar—except that the Choir sounds a bit like they might be doing a little less mourning and a little more killing.

Ten Thousand leaves little doubt that the Mountain Choir has more than a little bit of grit in its teeth and grime in its eyes, and it’s nice to hear a band that can take the sounds of the mountains and not pretty them up, keeping them alive by leaving them alone. - Vue weekly

"Exclaim, September 2008"

It's maybe a stretch to call Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir's third effort, Ten Thousand, a concept album, but by packaging it in the form of a Hell Bank Note, the Calgary old-timey quartet came up with a novel way to pay tribute to their pre-war blues heroes Son House, Skip James and Sleepy John Estes.

Hell Bank Notes are a long-standing Asian tradition, commonly burned at funerals in order to give the deceased currency in the afterlife. "We see it as good karma," says guitarist/vocalist Bob Keelaghan. "I was in a Chinese grocery store and just happened to see a package of Hell Bank Notes in a ten thousand denomination. We already had the song '10,000 Years,' and $10,000 was the budget for the record, so it seemed like a good idea to do the album cover in that style."

The band have always tried to balance an faithful representation of their influences with their own ideas, which Keelaghan says is coming into play more and more. "It was fun when we started the band, playing these old songs we wanted to play, but now we're at the point where we have to stand on own two feet as far as songwriting goes. That was our biggest challenge with this record, deciding if we had something to say, or if we were just going to continue on reciting what other people have said."

The band strike a nice balance on Ten Thousand, enough to have earned a rousing endorsement from UK roots phenomenon Seasick Steve, which led to his label picking up European rights for the album. Still, Keelaghan says with typical Canadian humility, "I guess we also decided that printing the album like a Hell Bank Note means that if people don't like it, they can always burn it." - Exclaim magazine

"Gospel According to the Agnostics"

You're never too old or too experienced to benefit from the advice of true professionals. You know? Someone who knows and who doesn't mind sharing a nugget or two of wisdom with those who need it.

Bob Keelaghan thinks so, anyway. So when a local radio executive offered to hep him and the other three members of veteran Calgary roots act Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir to the ways of hit-making and chart-topping they were more than happy to listen.

"I remember having this conversation with him where he was saying things like," says Keelaghan, affecting the stereotypical suit speak, " 'Well, you know, if you're really looking to get any airplay, one thing we suggest is recording a cover.'

So they took his advice.

And laid down a couple of, shall we say, classics.

"Probably not the ones he had in mind," Keelaghan says, laughing.

No. Probably not.

One can't imagine anyone at a mainstream commercial radio station being too jazzed when presented with covers of blues tunes by legends Sleepy John Estes and Son House, as well as a traditional Cajun track.

Nor when hearing how the Agnostics had handled them, with their genuine, rustic, dirt-smudged, sweat-soaked, beardy mountain acoustic blues take on early American folk music.

And especially not when realizing the corporate radio coffers had paid for it.

But they had. In one of life's richer ironies, Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir's third and current disc Ten Thousand is one of many Alberta efforts paid for entirely with money from a fund set up by bandwidth behemoth Rawlco as part of its successful license bid for what has since become Calgary's 97.7 FM -- a middle-of-the-road country rock station that plays such acts as Bon Jovi, Keith Urban, Jann Arden and Elton John.

Not surprisingly, it's a station the Agnostics think they have little or no hope of ever gracing.

Keelaghan admits there were mild reservations about accepting a no-strings attached cheque --save for the Rawlco name on the back of their CD -- from the Western Canadian conglomerate in order to hit the studio with local producer savant Dave Alcock. But only mild.

"Commercial radio in Canada is at a point right now where they largely don't care about independent artists

. . . . But if they're going to give money directly to artists so they can record records that get played on independent radio and build their audiences there, well great," he reasons.

"That's the way a grant program should be run -- going directly to the people that need it."

As an artistic identity, the Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir not only need, but deserve the opportunity to spread their sound and grow their fanbase.

The band, also featuring Peter Balkwill, Judd Palmer and Vladimir Sobolewski, has carved itself an incredibly unique niche over three records and seven years -- dipping inelegantly into the primordial muck of contemporary music for inspiration and dropping it hairy, naked, bucktoothed and shivering into today.

It's an odd sound to hear coming from the ragtag crew with a ragtaggier background: Keelaghan played with '90s local rock weirdoes The Puritans; Sobolewski has played bass in at least a half dozen other Calgary acts; and Palmer and Balkwill are also members of Old Trout Puppet Workshop (setting up, Keelaghan notes, the possibility of a future Spinal Tap-ian double bill: Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir and Puppet show. Or vice versa).

But as odd as it may seem on paper, the one thing Keelaghan is adamant about is that the band's sound comes from the right place.

"There's always questions of why does a band from a city like Calgary play the music that we do," he says before answering, "because we're at the age now where music is universal, there's no real borders. Whatever kind of music you're interested in if you want to track it down and buy a CD it's there to listen and burn.

"The music we play, the roots we go back to has influenced a lot of modern music so it's all there for consumption if you want to be a bit of a musicologist and go back and check it out.

"I don't know what's authentic in terms of what somebody's socioeconomic background is or what somebody does for a day job.

"All I can say is we play the music we play sincerely. We've got a genuine interest in what we do and where it comes from."

Perhaps that's why the quartet has struck such a chord overseas. They just returned from a successful tour of Ireland and the U.K. which saw them performing in packed clubs and on the mainstage of numerous festivals (along with such notables as Leonard Cohen, the Waterboys and Richard Thompson), and in front of crowds as large as 10,000 -- some of whom, Keelaghan was surprised to see, knew the Agnostics music and were happy to sing along. Ten Thousand, which is being distributed by a U.K. label, has also been making it's way up some charts in Great Britain, selling out its first run and going into back order on

And if you want to talk about radio, the four-piece spent some time in the U.K. recording their second session for BBC 2.

Assessing the situation, Keelaghan thinks it could be due to that area's relationship with folk music, and its history of attraction to North American forms of country, blues, etc.

There's also the Seasick Steve factor. That's the hobo blues singing alter-ego of Steve Wold, who produced early Modest Mouse offerings, who has quite the following himself in the U.K. and who has talked up the Agnostics in several interviews.

It's probably a combination of those things, Keelaghan surmises.

And then he offers another, simpler observation. "I think they just like any heartfelt, honest music that's done well."

And, if you need it, that's wisdom you can truly use. - Calgary Herald, August 30, 2008


Ten Thousand (S.A.P., 2008)
Fighting and Onions (S.A.P., 2005)
St. Hubert (S.A.P., 2003)



“Ten Thousand is not an homage to AMGC’s heroes, but rather a bunch of spirited interpretations that kick serious ass”. (Time Out London)

They’re a quartet. And they’re not from the mountains, though Calgary is close. The music, on the other hand, is not a joke. People often mention whiskey, brimstone, the Mississippi Delta and the Appalachian Mountains when they talk about their music. There are few bands who conjure the intensity of the original blues and folk music pioneers while uniting roots and rock audiences. The Agnostics are one of them.

Hollering, growling, and high, lonesome keening. Duelling slide guitars, tin can banjo, frenetic finger picking, sheet metal percussion, and pounding upright bass. That’s The Agnostics.

Critics drop adjectives like ‘punk’, and make comparisons with Tom Waits, and Captain Beefheart. The band maintain that the punk spirit was born in Delta and the mountains. Beefheart and Waits know that too.

Since the band’s first gig in 2001, word has spread. St. Hubert, the AMGC’s first CD, garnered a fist full of college radio airplay in Canada and ushered them into the roots music festival circuit. Their 2005 follow-up, Fighting and Onions, hit the top 10 of Earshot’s Canadian national campus radio chart, landed them a couple of national performances on CBC radio, bumped them up to bigger festivals – including a hit appearance the 2007 Winnipeg Folk Festival, and started a cult following outside Canada.

Ten Thousand, their latest release, ups the ante. The Agnostics push the boundaries of their sound without straying from what endears them to roots and rock fans. Already, it hit the top ten of the Chart Attack, Earshot, and CBC Radio 3 charts. It’s also their first official release in Europe, garnering them more raves from critics and fans - including UK blues phenomenon Seasick Steve - during their 2008 summer festival tour of England and Ireland and a second radio session for BBC DJ Mark Lamarr.

Once again, what’s old is new. And it’s new because the Agnostics make it so.

And We Quote:

A whisky-sodden joy from beginning to end.
- The Independent on Sunday, London

Their raw mountain music, to be sung round the campfire with moonshine in the jar and taters in the skillet, is a real tonic for listeners bored with over-produced, soulless fodder. Sing along, loudly. (8/10)
- Daily Mirror, London

Highly recommended! (Four stars!)
- Uncut, London, England

I’m going to move to Agnostic Mountain if this is what it can produce!
- Blues Matters, England

The songs are raw like a bloodied knuckle; they have the authenticity of a campfire and the impact of a heavy skillet on soft nose cartilage. … All hail to the AMGC - they’ll make a believer out of you.

The band’s awe-inspiring blend of the boldest and most boisterous elements of artists like Mississippi Fred McDowell and Tom Waits leaves listeners stunned: mouths gaping and ears ringing.
- Exclaim!, Toronto

[I]t’s immediately apparent that there’s a raw, emotional intensity at play here that no amount of bluff can possibly duplicate…. [T]his voice makes Captain Beefheart and Howlin’ Wolf sound like angelic upstarts.
- Penguin Eggs