Can I Get a Witness?
Can I Get A Witness? is Nod Arvefel’s 142nd album in the past eight months. Okay, maybe he hasn’t released quite that many, but it seems like every time I turn around this guy’s waving a new album in my face. If the music wasn’t so thoroughly enjoyable I might find his prolific output annoying, especially in light of my own current dry spell.
This time around, Nod, who is the alter ego someone better left unmasked (though I’ll give you a tnih), decided to put together an album about death. No, not a death metal album with growly vocals, though he’s included some of his rockiest songs to date. Rather, many of these songs are stories about people meeting their maker as they pass on to the other side, all told with Nod’s usual blend of compassion, humor and keyboard-centric compositions. For instance, “I Saw Elvis Leavin’ the Buildin’” is about hearing the fat lady sing “Amazing Grace’” with egg all over one’s face. “Howlin’ Wind” combines a Steve Wonder “Sunshine of My Life” Wurlitzer sound with a Western feel, tossing in jangling spurs and jazzy horns to tell a tale of a sharpshooter who comes face to face with death. Rounding out the death cycle are “Silver and Gold,” an invigorating track about an unfortunate fellow who finds you can’t earn or buy your way to Heaven, and the twangy, soothing “Keep the Light On” which begins with “As I stood as the bedside of a dying brother” against a fluffy backing of strings and gentle guitars.
As on past albums, Nod throws the listener a few curve balls. While traditional songs like “Take a Ride on the Carousel” and “My Child, There’s No Goodbyes” (another death song I overlooked earlier) could easily be enjoyed in any church without causing the blue-haired ladies to blink an eye, Nod’s mischievous nature cannot be restrained. The rocky “Comfort One Another” will never have anyone crying out “More cowbell!” because cowbell is all over this thing. Seriously, one listen to this lounge song will fulfill your cowbell quota for the rest of 2010. The instrumental “Star Spangled Rock” is impressive in its mastery of synth-guitar soloing, tossing in a Kink’s reference and heavy drums for credibility. Likewise, the final track, “You Still Here?” is an amazing instrumental formed of jazz piano, bass and drums that will get your feet moving right about the time it abruptly ends, leaving you wanting more. Nod even uses vocoders on two songs: the unnerving “I Am That I Am” which tells the listener of God’s love in the first Person (I kill myself with these thinly veiled theological jokes), and “Jesus, You Are the Glory” tempers the ballad with an angelic choir and (gasp) real guitars playing off impressively emotive vocals for an album highlight. And then there’s a song like the title track which makes you wonder if Nod mistakenly brought home a Kraftwerk CD from the library, filled as it is with a techno beat, squishy synth sounds, a very fat bass and clever lyrics like “Don’t care how much you know / I want to know how much you care.”
Overall, Can I Get A Witness? is a remarkably adventurous collection of songs. One moment you’ll hear a dramatic arrangement of strings and piano, the next a soothing hymn appropriate for church and then an offbeat quasi-techno 50s rocker. Arvefel is as genuine in his faith as he is talented in his songwriting, honestly expressing God’s love for humanity through tears and laughter. (Jason Hoffman)
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