In Review: The Gentle Guest: “We Are Bound To Save Some Souls Tonight”

The songs contained on “The Gentle Guest’s” debut full-length, “We Are Bound To Save Some Souls Tonight,” exist somewhere between a corner saloon and a cathedral.

At times, Eau Claire’s “The Gentle Guest” is an 11-man army of players, and other times it is Eric Rykal unaccompanied. At 21-years-old, Rykal’s songs demonstrate a weathered wisdom beyond his years.

When performed live, “The Gentle Guest’s” show translates as more of a dramatic reenactment than humble reproduction. A group of players rumble and stomp behind Rydal as he strums his way through a kaleidoscope of songs. An upright bass thumps along to the beat, while the trombone, saxophone, banjo and violin punctuate Rykal’s bluesy melodies.

Rykal channels Eric Clapton’s unplugged riffs during “Martydom.” This solo performance clearly demonstrates that “We Are Bound To Save Some Souls Tonight” is not the product of a stuffy, state of the art recording studio, but rather the bedrooms and basements of Rykal and his closest friends.

“The Gentle Guest” taps into the recent trend of using vintage tones to create a sound of decades past – paying homage to a time where an amplifier would have been the subject of science fiction. The record’s themes of salvation, boozing and homelessness mesh well with the unrefined timbres found on “We Are Bound To Save Some Souls Tonight.” In a time where it’s easier to find albums with more synthesizers than decent singers, it’s a welcome break to hear a band unafraid to digress to a straightforward sound.

Even with the low-tech approach to their music, “We Are Bound To Save Some Souls Tonight” is still a weighty album, and there is a lot to wade through. A lot of music is packed in its 10 songs, spanning only 32 minutes.

“Ship Without a Crew” is a sluggish sailor song that wouldn’t be at all out of place if sung by Jack Sparrow and his crew on a “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequel. The just out of sync rhythm section and auxiliary noises only add to the appeal of this track.

“Down At The Still” is a rambling tune that also shows off the group dynamic of “The Gentle Guest” as the entire band sings, “All hail whiskey God.” The percussion section is brawny and one of the most aurally exciting elements of the song.

“Love Long Dead” picks up the tempo with a rolling snare drum, accented tambourine and rousing trombone licks.

“We Are Bound To Save Some Souls Tonight” is not a record for the attention deficit. In order to be fully appreciated, it will take dedicated time and multiple listens. It’s a roaring opus that bellows the entire way through. It does hit some lulls, and the entire album may not jump out of the speakers, but there are compelling moments. If nothing else, it is ambitious, and proof of the blossoming music scene in Eau Claire.

– David Taintor