His Name Is Alive | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

His Name Is Alive 

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In 1998 His Name Is Alive released an album called Ft. Lake, and bandleader and founder Warn Defever had a doozy of a backstory to go with the title--he explained that there's a Civil War fort in his home state of Michigan that's been slowly settling into a huge sinkhole for a hundred years and is now entirely underwater. I don't know Michigan well enough to call his bluff, but real or not that fort makes a lovely metaphor for HNIA's sound: sturdy, down-to-earth Americana like blues, soul, and gospel submerged in a surreal and otherworldly realm. The new Detrola is HNIA's first release on the Sony-distributed Silver Mountain imprint--the band parted ways with longtime label 4AD in 2002--but Defever's joined on a couple tracks by singer Lovetta Pippen, a holdover from the old days who debuted on Ft. Lake (the Detroit gospel choir she sang with guested on the 1996 disc Stars on E.S.P.). Though Detrola is less spacey than the band's 90s work, it retains the open-ended, anything-can-happen vibe: a gauzy, dirgelike intro is swallowed by applause that swells into white noise and then vanishes abruptly to make way for "After I Leave U," a bluesy, Celtic-sounding tune buoyed by the chirping pulse of two buzzy synths, and from there the album jumps to the Carole King soft rock of "I Thought I Saw," with its humming corona of sax, trumpet, and Rhodes piano. Defever was once so obsessed with "Good Vibrations" that he listened to it for months on end (before deconstructing it as "Universal Frequencies" on Stars), and much like Brian Wilson's, his complex arrangements always bloom from a foundation of solid songcraft. Headliners Low are touring in support of the Tonight the Monkeys Die EP, which features remixes by Stephin Merritt and Bob Mould, among others; His Name Is Alive plays second and Death Vessel opens. Fri 1/27, 8:30 PM, Logan Square Auditorium, 2539 N. Kedzie, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $15. All ages.

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