It’s been a long wait for the new record by Chicago’s soul/r&b band The Congregation. Just before their last record they were opening for Wilco and Garbage, then it got a little silent in the aftermath of the release. Right Now Everything was at times a raucous jam of a blues record that I thought would propel these deserving musicians to the next level. I don’t think it quite did that, but it did raise expectations for the follow-up, Record Collection, out November 6th. Since they tend to not play the games most musicians play of releasing a song here and there to keep you interested, I had no idea what this new album would be like, but I’m happy to say it is a very satisfying collection of songs.
Record Collection is a bit more subdued than RNE, but Gina Bloom’s voice is still thunderous and amazing, and the band has only improved over the years since 2010’s Not For Sleeping.. On the title track of the album Bloom sings “Nothin gets you goin’ like my Motown and Stax,” and those are clearly two very influential parts of The Congregation’s sound. They touch on all the usual pieces of blues and soul records-Booker T, Smokey Robinson, Isaac Hayes, etc. The big difference between other bands that play off those giants is the obvious Chicago blues tilt given mostly by guitarist Charlie Wayne. This is where Stax meets Chess and The Congregation is born.
There’s nine solid tracks here, with a couple standouts that I think sets this release apart from their others. One of my favorites is the ballad “The Bottom,” which comes all the way at the end of the album. They slow the tempo way down and let Bloom’s voice guide you through an emotional tune. This is one of those late-night-getting-drunk-alone-thinking-about-what-coulda-been type songs that they just knock out of the park. Wayne’s long guitar solo provides all the yearning and distress of Bloom’s voice with a smoothness that tries to mask the tragedy of it all.
The other track that sticks out, to me, is “Until We Die.” Here, they add some honky-tonk swagger that I’ve never heard from them. The horns get featured a bit more, and Wayne’s tone comes off with just a bit of that nasty acrid taste that SRV gave some of his most compelling riffs. That’s followed by “Love Letter” that has a little more of that shimmy and shake that RNE was filled with.
Overall I think Record Collection is a great introduction if you haven’t heard The Congregation before. They’re such a talented group of people, amazing to see live, I highly recommend catching their release show at The Hideout if you’re in Chicago on Saturday November 7th. You can get tickets here. You can also pre-order the album here.
Do yourself a big favor and check out their older stuff to prepare for the new album. There aren’t a lot of bands doing what they do, and I don’t think there’s anyone doing it better.