- Christianity Today Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2009 3 Mar
Newworldson plays "speakeasy gospel."
Much like everything else you'll encounter about this four-piece band, the previous statement takes some explaining.
During the Prohibition, underground bars called "speakeasies" popped up in cities around the country. These gathering places were the primary breeding ground for what we now know as popular music and can best be used to associate the fusion of sounds that make up Newworldson.
It's part gospel, a little soul, and all kinds of North American roots music. It's garbed in a unique blend of guitar, bass, keys and drums, bolstered by universal truths that can live anywhere … a church, barroom, arena stage, or corner club.
But you also have to take a look at the root words of "speakeasy" to understand what Newworldson (guitarist Josh Toal, bassist Rich Moore, keyboardist/vocalist Joel Parisien and drummer Mark Rogers) is trying to accomplish.
The band is speaking easily of the Spirit that each member has welcomed to filter through their lives and music. They want their creative output to reflect the diverse ways and places in which they've experienced that Spirit. And they're determined to share that Spirit with anyone and everyone.
Most discussions about brand new bands on the national scene quickly turn to name origins. But rather than sending writers diving through dictionaries, asking about Newworldson's moniker points to maps instead.
"Sometimes when I start answering this question, it becomes a geography lesson as well as a musical one," Parisien says of the band. "North America's known as the new world, and we feel like the musical traditions we're tapping into are very uniquely North American.
"This project is like a child of the new world," he continues. "It really couldn't have come from anywhere else, because the mix of styles, the whole history of gospel and blues becoming jazz, rock and hip-hop, that cultural experience happened here in the new world."
That's not to say Newworldson's music is mired in a single era, though. The hallmark of each player, and therefore the music as a whole, is a sense of influences and experience functioning collectively.
Josh Toal has clearly immersed himself in the work of twangmasters like Dick Dale, as well as reggae rhythms galore. Rich Moore must have picked apart the bass stylings of jazz masters such as Jaco Pastorius in addition to a lot of rockabilly. Mark Rogers' versatility has its roots in listening to great rock drummers à la Keith Moon and a blue ton of jam bands. And while Joel Parisien doubtless spent time contemplating Stevie Wonder's inventiveness, he surely also dug into the music world's great piano and Hammond B3 players alike.
So meshing all these influence into a signature sound that doesn't end up a sonic mess can only happen via two key factors: experience and divine intervention.
"It was very unplanned," Rogers says. "Rich and I had a jazz gig on Tuesday nights, playing in an acoustic trio with a guitar player. The guitar player left and the venue's owner wanted to keep the night going.
"Long story short, Joel, whom I knew from a worship conference we once played, came to the club one night with Josh. Both sat in, doing gospel music. It got a fantastic response! And that's where we all came together."
It's the one aspect of the Newworldson story that's simple: they met, they played, and they knew it was something special.
That something special has resulted in Salvation Station, the band's full-length debut on Inpop Records. The 11-song set runs the gamut Newworldson has been honing on stages large and small for three years. It folds together pop, soul and jazz elements into a sound completely unlike anything currently on the pop music landscape.
And because Salvation Station is infused with those transparently spiritual messages, the band knows it's facing an uphill battle getting the public to understand who and what it is musically.
"It's difficult to classify our sound because we draw from different genres, but really, our foundation is soul music," Parisien says. "And soul music definitely has sacred roots; it started in the church. So we want to return this familiar music to its sacred roots, all the while leading people to a place of praise, release, revival and worship."
That kinetic atmosphere is felt all over Salvation Station. The steady pulse of "Working Man" echoes the title track's driving beat, giving way to the greasy stomp of "Empty Heart." But the album still has room for loping, introspective songs like "Sweet Holy Spirit" and the joyous yearning on "Waitin' Till The Rapture Come."
All of the emotion, style, movement, and energy that fills both Salvation Station as well as Newworldson's finely crafted live performances reflects hard work and a willingness to be free in who they are as men and musicians. It's that rare combination of both style and substance, married to a higher calling.
"I think the anointing is clear to anybody, Christian or not. To see that there's something extra there, and we surrender to that when we play," Parisien says. "We don't want to take credit for what's happening on stage, just like we can't take any credit for how this band was put together. All we've done is show up with a positive attitude and put in the work. Anything that happens on stage, any hearts that are touched, really has very little to do with us."