If you’ve read some of my posts over the last few months, or follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that there are few bands from the Chicago area that I love more than The Congregation. They’ve only been playing together since the beginning of 2010, but you’d never guess it. The EP they put out in December of that year, Not For Sleepin’, was quite something. I was honored to be the first person to write a review of that release-it was so good I couldn’t believe no one else had got there first. In the five songs they included on that disc they blew away any other band doing R&B/Soul, Chicago or elsewhere. I compared them to a lot of other bands, but honestly they’re the best group in this genre to come out in at least a decade.
Now it’s almost two years later and The Congregation are about to explode into a nationally known band. While they were finishing up the recording and mixing of Right Now Everything they picked up an opening slot for Wilco (handpicked by Tweedy himself) in front of about 10,000 people. Then, just a few weeks later, they opened for The Flaming Lips and Garbage. As if that wasn’t enough, they dropped the first single as a free download and it was every bit as good as I had hoped it would be.
On Right Now Everything that band from two years ago has amplified every good quality about themselves and eliminated all negatives. They still rely heavily on the vocals of Gina Bloom, but with a voice like that, why wouldn’t you? Everyone in the band gets to shine a bit, especially the horn section (Erik Eiseman, Nick Nottoli, and Brian Crane) which is so important if you want to make real rhythm and blues. Truly, the key reason this album is more than a step above their EP is the songwriting, which has improved dramatically.
There are four songwriters credited on the album, with half the songs being co-written by at least two members. These collaborations make for some great arrangements. Lyrically I think Charlie Wayne, lead guitarist, still holds the spot as the bands top scribe. The half of the record written by a solo writer is all Wayne, and he brings out the most high-octane tunes, as well as the most emotional moments. By spreading it out though, and having Chuck Sansone (keyboards) and Dan Wendt (drums) work together on a few songs, the listener gets a much better feel for what the band is capable of doing.
The Congregation wastes no time getting to the hits on Right Now Everything. On the slightly ska-influenced “You Always Told Me (Terrible Things)” Bloom’s vocals are scratchy like she’s been screaming and fighting with her significant other for hours. The horns are raging throughout until everything but the bass and drums drop out for a little breakdown where Bloom cries out: “You always told me you loved me, and long ago that was true. But you told me a lie. I know, I told you one too.” The end of this verse explodes with Charlie Wayne’s electrifying guiitar work.
On “You’ll Always Be Alright With Me” we get a song steeped in more traditional blues. The band mixes it with some pop sensibility that makes it feel more modern while staying true to its foundation. Sansone’s organ work really makes the song sparkle-just dropping in and out as needed. This is one written by Wayne alone, and somehow it still feels like the most band-oriented song on the album. Big credit to him that he can write such a good song and make sure everyone gets a good part.
My personal favorite track off Right Now Everything is “You Need My Love.” Front to back, it is filled with “oh my god” moments. The opening sounds like it could have been a sample from some undiscovered Led Zeppelin track. The first chorus when Bloom belts out the title of the song, you instantly understand what sets her apart from other female vocalists. Joe DeBord’s bass line feels like something Bill Wyman may have laid down during the Sticky Fingers sessions. The song is the most focused, powerful three and a half minutes offered on the record. Every musician is at his or her best in this song, and the payoff is absolute excellence.
I knew right away, when I pushed play on Not For Sleepin’, that this band would do great things. With their first full-length under their belt and some already-impressive live shows, I can’t even imagine how high they can go. The Congregation are the only band I can think of that plays this style at the level it deserves, and for that they should reap big rewards. If you haven’t heard them yet, prepare yourself. They will blow you away.
If you’re in the Chicago area, Right Now Everything will be kicked off at the official record release show on September 28th at Martyrs. If you’re not in Chicago (and even if you are) don’t worry. The album will be up online on September 25th. For more info you can check out the bands website or facebook page.