Walking into the Amsterdam Bar & Hall a few weeks ago, I was convinced that either I had ended up at the wrong venue, someone had forgotten to tell me it was 70’s night, or they had slipped me some real nice drugs. But in reality, none of those things were true; it was just Al Church on stage, performing songs from his latest release, Next Summer.
There’s a sense of reckless abandon about Al Church – in how he performs, and in his throw-back tunes that make up an accomplished and distinctly summer album. Combining modern day rock and jazz with elements of older decades, Next Summer holds nothing back. In “You And I,” Church asks the same of the listener, demanding “don’t fight the urge” and “grab hold the beat and shake it.” And as he throws around his body on stage, it’s difficult to fight the urge to join him.
A talented backing band, including a heavily featured saxophone, creates the groovy backdrop over which Church shouts and sings, getting experimental at any point they desire. It’s a coherent finished product, but still feels like a roller coaster ride, constantly catching the ear unexpected. Perhaps this is because Church doesn’t care for following rules, but more for throwing a wrench into a frustratingly streamlined local scene. There is nothing and nobody else in town who sounds like this, and it’s best to relish in it.
There’s romance, intrigue, and even a good dose of societal commentary in Next Summer. However, taking things seriously is not part of the deal. “S.a.T.J.” flings itself around wildly, with Church proclaiming in all its cheesy glory: “we’re gonna slam at the jam!” And in “The Clock,” the ensemble wails “tick tock” back and forth like an inside joke that may incite nonsensical laughter. Yet the musicianship behind the making of this release is real, proving that being a professional rock musician these days can, actually, include fun and games.
As if on a dare, Al Church pulled out all the stops and left inhibition behind for the making of Next Summer. It’s wild, it’s free, and it’s okay if you don’t get it. But I suggest playing it quite loudly, and making it a part of this summer.