Friday, July 31, 2015
Review - Youth Choir - Voices In The Shadows
Recorded under the name of Youth Choir, Voices in the Shadows was produced by some guy named Thom Roy (or Roy Thom) who has since disappeared into his own shadows. In addition to the name difference, drummer Steve Hindalong was on the fence between joining this band and continuing with another band named “Lucky Stiffs” (which included future Choir bassist Tim Chandler) so he didn’t play on the album, although he is credited as having done so. Instead drum duties were handled by a drum machine. I’m sure it made sense back in 1985 but the lack of a drummer’s sensibilities and finesse and inventive chops definitely gives the rhythm section a kind of generic blandness*. And speaking of generic, there’s bassist Mike Saurbrey who appears now and then on Choir albums when Tim Chandler is stuck in the potty with roadside food illnesses. I have nothing against Mr. Saurbrey or his playing (except that he reminds me painfully of myself in the following description) but consider this: Mike: capable but unremarkable bass lines, looks like just some guy up on stage. Tim: crazily inventive melodic monster bass lines that add tension and depth to the songs, amazing stage presence. No contest! And then there’s the lyrics. Future albums had Steve Hindalong writing most of the lyrics and the man has a poetic way with words that brought acclaim to this band. This time out guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Derri Daughterty wrote the lyrics. As far as they go, they are decent but nothing spectacular, focusing on hopeful optimism not tainted by doubt and “who will help the children”, a subject that was quite en vogue at the time.
So what’s good about this platter? In listening to the album again for the first time in a decade I’m impressed with the quality of the songwriting and the vocal melodies. Sonically it’s a pretty good engineering job so kudos, Thom (or Roy)! However the standout feature of this debut album is Derri’s guitar playing. While not yet fully developed, one can hear the influence of British bands that will be explored more fully on later albums and on “Another Heart” one gets to hear the chiming, floating, ethereal playing style that will later become a huge part of the signature Choir sound. But at this point only one of the four players is in place so it really is a different beast than the band that will become THE CHOIR. Overall, it’s much better than I remembered (or didn’t remember). If the unvarying programmed drums were replaced with a real drummer this album would improve dramatically, possibly becoming a great example of upbeat 80s Brit-rock. Another standout is the pure eighties keyboard sounds! For the most part, keyboards were dropped from the bands later albums, except for when played through the lyricon of Dan Michaels. Oddly, no one is credited at playing these magnificently vintage tones.
* And now, the rest of the story: From a discussion on Facebook with Steve, he says "That's all nonsense. I was in the band (Youth Choir) since '83. First album came out in '85. Derri had written all the songs and the producer wanted to use a drum machine but barely knew how to program it. Anyway, we evolved."