Imagine if Johnny Cash, Bob Marley and Joan of Arc were one woman. Now, imagine that woman gathering a band of eclectic musicians on a crusade to expand the bounds of Country music. The Evangenitals, founded by playwright/director Juli Crockett and opera, jazz & gospel singer Lisa Dee are an alt-country/Americana love revolution made flesh for your listening pleasure. On a quixotic crusade in the key of life hell-bent on breaking hearts open, they are a genre-bending, ever-creating force of nature.
The Evangenitals boast one of the most eclectic resumes in the indie music world. As live performers, they’ve built a fiercely loyal following through a thousand shows at clubs, coffee houses and festivals throughout the world (including Scotland’s prestigious Edinburgh Fringe Festival). Their shows are notable for music that can be bawdy and rollicking in one moment, and, in the next, sufficiently mysterious and haunting to make the rowdiest of beer brawlers pause, turn toward the stage and listen.
The group’s current lineup consists of principal writer/vocalist Juli Crockett, gospel/jazz singer Lisa Dee, keyboardist Michael Feldman, bassist Joey Maramba, Andrea Baker on fiddle, Daniel Mark on mandolin, Danny Graziani on fiddle and harmonica, and an ensemble of rotating drummers including George Bernardo (Cash’d Out), princess Frank (Killsonic), David Hurlin (Apocalypso Tantric Boys Choir) and Rob Shaffer (Ninja Academy).
Having spent the better part of a decade navigating the choppy waters of the Southern California indie rock world, the Evangenitals have turned their considerable creative attentions to the greatest seagoing adventure of them all. Moby Dick: or, The Album, the band’s debut album with Fluff & Gravy Records (March 18. 2014), is a musical swirl of immaculately crafted songs, each interpreting an aspect of Melville’s masterpiece with an approach that tacks between intricate arrangement and the deceptively simple country-inflected tunes for which the band is best known. At times the songs are lushly poetic, at others, coarsely powerful. They are as infectious as they are ambitious, filled with humor, insight, mystery and wonder.
“Moby Dick” might seem a lofty source of material for songwriter-musicians, but for partners Juli Crockett and Lisa Dee, who stand together at the center of the Evangenitals, this sampling of literary masterwork is a natural progression.
The album was recorded entirely in the home studio of Crockett and Feldman (who happen to be married, and have an adorable son named Thelonious), and finds the band being joined by such notable guest artists as: folk legend Jim Kweskin (of Jug Band fame), acclaimed avant-garde performer Dorian Wood, composer Jeremy Zuckerman (“Avatar: The Last Airbender” and recent #1 iTunes Soundtrack “Legend of Korra”), cornet ace Kris Tiner (Empty Cage Quartet), and bassist Edwin Livingston, who frequently accompanies Natalie Cole.
Produced by Michael Feldman, bassist Joey Maramba (formerly of Ninja Academy), and the Evangenitals, the record was then mastered by the legendary Doug Sax and Jett Galindo at The Mastering Lab.
Asked why she turned to Melville’s novel as the point of departure for her songs, Crockett pointed to the precedent of her adaption of the same material for theater a dozen years earlier. “Moby Dick,” she says, “is one of those iconic texts that has a life beyond its pages. People who have never read the book still have an understanding of its themes and its characters. Much like Don Quixote, characters like Captain Ahab and the White Whale transcend literature and enter the realm of the symbolic. Great works of art aren’t satisfied with being passively received; we are meant to engage, challenge, and play with them. The greatness of great literature is in its ability to respond with resiliency to the times, over ages and eons. Without changing a word, they somehow manage to consistently change our lives.”
Adapting material as exalted as a volume often referenced as “the great American novel” is an unaccustomed pursuit for popular musicians, though, of course, such adaption is commonplace in other arts disciplines. To the question, “Should popular music mine classic literature as source material?” the Evangenitals’ inventive and revelatory “Moby Dick” answers with a resounding affirmative. Combining pioneer lineage with a love of performing arts, the Evangenitals take listeners on a journey of passion and creative freedom, embracing all of life as source material.
Ranging from truck-stop lullabies to Klezmer-punk-jazz, ballads & barn-burners to hillbilly stomp, citing influences from the new-wave intelligentsia of the Talking Heads to the archetypal fire of Johnny Cash, all welded together with the mutant masterminds of Ween: The jukebox at the Mad Hatters tea party is the Evangenitals.