Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir
Calgary Bluesfest 2007

Rare is the band that can captivate both punk rock kids and folk music fans. Rare still is a band that can do this by playing a ferocious combination of traditional blues, Appalachian folk, and ragged gospel. But The Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choir does just that.

Formed from the ashes of several wildly divergent Calgary bands, the Agnostics began creating their strange brew just three years ago. Featuring Judd Palmer on vocals, banjo, and harmonica and Vladimir Sobolewski on stand-up bass (both of whom were members of the now defunct Great Uncle Bull), guitarist/vocalist Bob Keelaghan (formerly of the Puritans), and drummer Jay Woolley (a man who has played with so many bands it would take this entire program to list them all), the group claims they were "founded in an effort to forge a kind of gospel for the unbeliever." To judge by their performances, they have succeeded and then some.

The intimacy and power of their live show leaves usually noisy clubs rapt with attention. Between Palmer's unholy harmonica playing and the from-the-pit-of-his-stomach vocal delivery, and Keelaghan's dizzying guitar work, the band commands their audience's attention with ease. The songs sound as though they have been squeezed through the ages, from the deep South by way of Chicago blues, and there are no gimmicks or artifice to get in the way. The Agnostics have remained untouched by the trend in roots music traditionalism, as it seems everybody else is simply finding places the Agnostics have already been. Instead, the band remains focused squarely on celebrating the various styles they have forged into one uncompromising sound.

The Agnostics' power is accompanied with an obvious respect for the styles the quartet explores in their music. While their sets are good natured and punctuated with humour, there is no kitsch about what they do. The honesty comes out in their original music, which could only sound more authentic if it were accompanied by the pops and crackles of old vinyl. While modern recording technology hardly affords the luxury of such character, this band has gone for the next best thing, opting for a recording [St. Hubert] that features entirely live performances, straight off the floor with no studio gimmickry or technology to help them out. It is yet another extension of the band's ethic, and the music suffers nothing from this simple approach.

All the members of the Agnostics have lengthy resumes, and numerous creative endeavours: Palmer, for instance, writes children's books, and is a puppeteer. So when the band does perform, their pure enjoyment of playing together colours the entire affair. It is an infectiuous feeling, and perhaps explains why the Agnostics appeal to so many damn people.

- Derek MacEwan, from the 2003 Calgary Folk Music Festival Guide.
www.theagnostics.com