by John Ellis
A mere one hundred years ago, music was largely inaccessible for most people. Sure, the phonograph had been invented, but the machine was pricey. Radio broadcasting was in its infancy, literally. To enjoy God’s good gift of music, most people were dependent on concerts. As much as I love live music, I would not be happy if concerts suddenly became my primary source of music.
On the flip side, I’m afraid that we in the 21st century have taken for granted our access to almost limitless music. Music is everywhere – in our homes, while shopping, and even while pumping gas, to give a mere three examples. Unfortunately, the ubiquitousness of music in our lives has caused many of us to stop really listening and to simply consume, and consumption almost always demands the path of least resistance.
This is why I’m always a little incredulous whenever new acquaintances claim to love music. Over the last several years, I have interacted with and promoted hundreds of albums. Many of those albums have been from excellent, indie musicians. But, no matter how loudly I implore them to do otherwise, the majority of people that I know only consume music that is fed them by the large taste-makers/corporations. With “Shop Local” stickers proudly adorning their computers, they depend on artist-draining music sites to dictate their music diet.
As frustrating as it is for me to watch really good music get passed over time and time again in favor of bland corporate-music, it’s exponentially more frustrating for indie musicians who are pouring their heart and soul into excellent music. Worse, it’s demoralizing and insulting for them when friends and family “like” content and posts on social media sites but never actually engage their art. Sending congratulations and pretending to be excited about the music means nothing without actually buying the album. And it means nothing because most people engage music, just not the music produced by hard-working, interesting, and talented indie musicians that share space on their social media newsfeeds. The musicians know that their friends and family members like music, just not their music.
To be clear, the musicians that I’ve spoken with about this are far more generous than I’ve just been, but the obvious rejection of their art does hurt them. And since they continue to produce excellent music, I’ll continue to promote their music.
The excitement that both my wife and I felt when we heard that Andy Zipf was producing a new album with his band The Cowards Choir stands in stark contrast to my frustration expressed above. In fact, that excitement is the other side of the bitter coin angrily spinning in the above paragraphs. When that coin stops spinning, it’ll land on a side that reminds me that life is made richer because of Name the Fear.
Andy Zipf possesses the ability to marry honesty with appropriate distance that allows the listener to own the music. While highly personal, Zipf’s lyrics wrap themselves around both the listener’s angst and joy. This is aided, of course, by the lush, interesting music that reveals Andy Zipf’s ear for harmony and complexity in musical storytelling. The Coward Choir’s ability to produce beautiful music that perfectly compliment the lyrics has resulted in an album that is vying for my favorite of the year.
While not roots music, Name the Fear has the sturdiness of Americana. That sturdiness, however, is balanced by the soft edges of familial themes that see great hope and love even in failings. As Zipf moves around his memories, he doesn’t shy away from his own pain but without ever completely surrendering the selflessness that dominates Name the Fear. In fact, if I had to pick one word to describe The Coward Choir’s latest album, I would choose “selfless.”
Even in “The Weeping Hour,” the most painful moment on the album, Zipf expresses optimism as he reveals that the options “to forgive, or forget” are still held out in the weeping hour. And in that moment, Andy Zipf lays bare his own optimism that can only be clothed by cynicism.
Cynicism has become the cultural zeitgeist; Name the Fear is a welcome and artfully produced revelation that the best of life is bound up in moments of wonder and hope, even if those moments hurt. The title track boldly declares that “the night will take from us everything, but our surrender.” With his latest album, Andy Zipf confesses that no matter how much the broken world takes from him there is enough left that deserves to be shared through beautifully crafted music.
Name the Fear may very well be the best album of the year that most people haven’t had the privilege of hearing. For me, possibly the most frustrating aspect of that previous sentence is that I know that the vast majority of the people would happily find space in their daily playlists for Name the Fear. Getting people to take that first listen is a trick that I have yet to master. Please listen to Name the Fear; consider buying it; and share Andy Zipf’s warm, thought-provoking music with others.
You can purchase Name the Fear and learn more about The Cowards Choir at this link.