Music: The Restoration's new album is set in roils of 1950s rural Lexington
11/09/2012 12:00 AM
11/16/2012 7:33 AM
There’s a more eloquent way to relate this thought, but here I prefer to be blunt: The Restoration doesn’t make music. Rather the band, which is set to release “Honor the Father,” its second concept album, makes art.
Magnificent, enthralling and provocative art. At just under 25 minutes, “Honor the Father” plays like a novella, with a resonant plot and well-developed characters. Like the band’s previous album, 2010’s marvelous “Constance,” an examination of race, religion and gender roles in post-Civil War Lexington, the town is the same. But on this album, the time is rural Lexington around 1950, and the material mines religious radicalism, the deafening power of interpretation and the use of violence to achieve subjugation.
The band – Aleks Amer, Adam Corbett, Lauren Garner, Sharon Gnanashekar and Daniel Machado – recorded the album live, and there were minimal overdubs. Lisa Stubbs provided the vocals of Diana Colly Bright, the bride of Roman Bright, the album’s protagonist. Machado, who sings as Roman and Sheriff Glen Elewine, was the primary music and lyric writer.
“Roman, to me, is the closest thing to a pure villain I’ve ever written,” he said. “I have a rule that I have to be able to deeply identify with every character I’m working on. It feels pointless to tell a story if you can’t identify with the characters. It was still my goal to see where he was coming from even though it was terribly misguided.”
Spoiler alert: For this column, Machado and I discussed the album, which is loaded with surprises, in detail. (“Constance” included a compendium. The deluxe version of “Honor the Father” is for those who want to probe deeper into the album.)
We pulled out lyrics from the seven songs and asked Machado to elaborate and, in some cases, respond to interpretation. “Honor the Father” invites such interaction and a studied listen. Please don’t get it twisted, this band’s musicianship is up to par with its scholarship. So is the presentation, as tonight’s performance will feature new period on-stage costuming.
1. “There’s Something in the Woods,” narrated by Sheriff Glen Elewine in 1954
“I stopped my car and he came to me, yelling/ ‘I woke up to my momma screaming/ Daddy’s hands — his knife — he pushed it down — / Down — And Momma, she quit moving’.”
“This part of the story is supposed to play off the genres of suspense, horror, murder mystery. At this point, we’re trying to be vague and set up the mystery and set up the crime,” said Machado, who is playing off of the listener’s expectations. “We’re setting up a crime that we’re going to reveal details about and, hopefully, not as people expected.”
2. “Sweet Talker,” narrated by Roman Bright and Diana Colly in 1937
“I’d like to sweet talk her, ’til she’s sweet on me/ I’d like to sweet talk her, but that never works for me.”
“Roman was written as a guy who was supremely low in the self esteem department,” Machado said. “At that stage in his life, he’s not supposed to be too different from the average young guy.”
Machado sang all the parts on “Constance.” Stubbs’ appeal is immediately apparent.
“The story was inspired by things I’ve experienced in my life where I’ve seen men becoming overbearing in their relationships with women,” said Machado, who added that he was not speaking about his parents. “It seemed really inappropriate to voice both sides of that.”
3. “I’ll Stay,” narrated by Diana in 1940
“A wedding —/ A new town —/ A cottage in the woods —/ Our little wall to keep the world away/ You’re difficult, you know/ But you love me, so I’ll stay.”
It seems like Diana is beginning to realize the man she married isn’t who she thought he was.
“At this point, I’m not entirely sure what all kind of signs that he’s shown,” Machado said. “It is an exploration of a character that decides to settle up until a certain point. I think (Roman’s) a little insecure still and a little clingy. They’re both removing themselves from the world. They both think the world has taken a wrong course. I think she can tell there is a risk there.”
4. “The Old Ways (the 20th Century),” narrated by Roman, 1941-1953
“Keep it clean —/ I’ll say it again; Keep it clean/ When you bleed, I say it’s a sin/ When it comes, you will stay in the hut (for seven days and nights) and/ When it comes, a curse on everything you touch.”
In this song, Roman goes from convincing himself his father, who had an “iron hand,” was a good man to talking about menstrual huts. What is going on there?
“That’s actually something directly from Leviticus. These are Old Testament cleanliness laws,” Machado said. “What’s going on there, is Roman, I think, he wants to be a good father. So he’s adopted this sort of view of Christianity that being punished is somehow a virtuous thing. Because he wants to believe his father is good, but he wants to believe God is good.”
God who sacrificed his son. Roman is literally interpreting — and practicing — what’s in the Bible.
“What’s misguided is he’s taken that out of context,” Machado said. “Two people who thought they (were) on the same page find out they’re not. This is kind of where the rubber meets the road, the implications of what they’ve done. I think Roman has found his domain. He believes the Bible gives him control.”
5. “Leaves,” narrated by Diana in 1954
“We moved to these woods to learn to read God’s law/ But you showed me what your read in it was all that mattered/ Through our little girl I finally saw/ That I’d let you act as a prophet and a jailer.”
“When she sees that happening to her children, she can’t really buy that any more,” Machado said. “She makes a decision that she can’t see any more children come into the environment.”
6. “The Trial”, narrated by Elewine — with a speech by Roman — in 1954
When Roman speaks at trial, he references a Bible verse. His speech, in the album’s lyrics sheet, includes the corresponding verses from which he has formed his beliefs.
“Not guilty! See/ In Genesis 3:16, God said to the sinner Eve/ ‘Your husband shall rule over thee’/ And I’ve followed that to the letter. (Leviticus 15:19-30, Leviticus 12, Luke 2:22-40)/ As God struck Onan down for spilling his seed on the ground (Genesis 38:8-10)/ I only followed his design when I found my wife spilling mine/ And when my daughter cursed my name (Matthew 15:4, Leviticus 20:9) and put the Word of God to blame (Leviticus 24:16)/ I kept the Law, like Abraham, but God did not stop my hand — and she stopped breathing (Genesis 22)/ Set against my child and spouse, revealed as foes in my own house, I’ve proved my love for Him devout/ Hallelujah (Matthew 10:34-39).”
Roman, a Biblical literalist, is similar to John Palmer from “Constance.”
“They believe what they believe,” Machado said. “Their actions are a result of those beliefs. (Roman) believes the eternal safety of his family is at stake.”
Of note: the accompanying music in “The Trial” and “There’s Something in the Woods” is the same, as the former is a continuation of the latter. It’s buoyant and Machado’s vocal delivery is playful.
7. “Father,” narrated by Jonah Bright, 1963
“You taught me that the Spirit reveals the Truth Divine/ How could it be that your truth was so different from mine?”
One is led to believe Jonah is much different than his father before he sings, “‘Cause I’m gonna sweet talk her, ’til she’s sweet on me/ I’m gonna sweet talk her, ’til she’s sweet on me.”
He’s distanced himself from his parents’ theology, but still developed their fundamentalist attitude.
“I don’t know what happens to Jonah,” Machado said. “I like to think he becomes a much more average, flawed human being.”
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