What is a “gospel machine?” Something both futuristic and old-fashioned, like an electric pipe organ or an old-school telephone ring on your smartphone?
Yes, this band knows gospel and soul were once welded together to create a popular, radio-friendly sound (Mavis Staples, Aretha). Fifty years later, they’ve retrofitted that sound with our ongoing racial politics and a Twin Cities indie vibe.
“I was feeling really dry creatively,” says songwriter and guitarist Wes Burdine. “I started to listen to more Nina Simone, Sam Cooke, and really falling in love with it.” He pulled his bandmates from Small Cities in on his vision (David Osborne on drums, Jimmy Osterholt on bass, Scott Munson on keys). But there was a hitch: “I can’t sing like Sam Cooke,” Burdine adds.
Enter Jayanthi Kyle. Known as much for singing at any funeral that asks as for her eclectic roster of band gigs, including Romantica, the big-voiced, art-is-healing activist gives Gospel Machine a full body to wrap around its engine.
“I really appreciate how they were a working machine before I arrived,” Kyle says. “They get each other. I bring a grandmother vibe. I either have to preach to you or love you up!”
Funny how the songs bring that, too. The bounce between love and despair is themed around a woman experiencing racial oppression, domestic violence, and grief, all through powerful swells of joy. And they’re framed around early soul music. Most of the band met at a local Christian college, and Kyle first heard them at Mercy Seat, the Northeast Minneapolis church that’s also an indie musician den.
“This music is just reminiscent enough that it hits this familiar chord, but it’s not nostalgic,” Burdine says. Grownups with day jobs and four kids between them, they’re no escapist cover band. Says Burdine, “I want lyrics that aren’t easy. I want horns that are messy. I want it noisy and spiritualized and complicated.”
He goes on, “I’m still figuring out what we can do. For one song, I wrote a doo-wop song, then we did it and it had the feel of The Animals, and then we did it with the horns and it was like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.”
Says Kyle, “And then we went into the spirit world.” Gospel Machine, Dec. 11, Icehouse, gospelmachine.com