I was already impressed with Gospel Claws at their debut album back in 2010, C-L-A-W-S (I remember being somewhat mystified by this title; turns out some early reviewers would misspell their name “Gospel Clause”). At once, I was swept away with their ’50s style, surf and doo-wop influenced music, set off with dark lyrics, Joel Marquard’s crooning vocals, and a touch of, well, gospel. On their latest album, Put Your Sunshine Away (released last November), there’s still that delightful vintage vibe, though it’s a fuller sound which at times (as on the soaring “Pale Horse Dry Cleaning”) becomes a full-on orchestral production with Marquard belting it out. “Hambone,” though curiosly titled, is a wildly romantic moonlit dance. “Looming Darkness” is also dreamy and romantic, though with a melancholy underbelly (“I’m feeling lonesome and I’ve got no one to blame / I can’t seem to break out of my 20-something cage.”). For this second album, released on Common Wall Media, the band had a very successful Kickstarter campaign which partially funded the project. As with the first, it was recorded by Bob Hoag at Flying Blanket Recording.
From Tempe, Arizona, Gospel Claws formed in 2007 after lead singer and guitarist Marquard left his previous band, Dear and the Headlights. He joined with keyboardist Sloan Walters, Wesley Hilsabeck on guitar, John Mulhern on bass and Scott Hall on drums. It’s interesting to note that the band members apparently met during church activities, as there’s that spiritual yearning in Marquard’s voice that takes their music a good deal farther for me than it would with a strictly ’50s sound. It’s that “special something” that makes them unique. And to prove that this isn’t just my opinion, they’ve been featured twice on NPR’s All Songs Considered.
Despite the crowning achievement of this fine sophomore album, Gospel Claws had a rough 2012. Early in the year, Marquard was diagnosed with testicular cancer, which led the Phoenix music community to put out a benefit album for him, the unfortunately but aptly titled Balls Benefit Compilation. Happily, he’s ok now, but also last year Hilsabeck left the band and moved to Portland. Completing the trifecta of bad news and saddest of all, guitarist Mark Erickson (Colorstore/ROAR), who was filling in for Hilsabeck for the band’s live shows, tragically died before they were ready to record. In October, Colorstore’s Jef Wright joined on drums and Hall moved to guitar, creating the current lineup. This new year seems to be starting out as a successful one for the band and I must say, it’s been hard earned. May they move boldly on with even greater strength and conviction. Or as they say themselves, “Grainy and rough yet still deeply soulful.”
They’re performing on March 4 with The Preservation at Pub Rocks in Scottsdale, AZ, with more dates promised this spring. If you’re a vinyl collector, Put Your Sunshine Away was also released as a limited edition 12″ white vinyl record by Common Wall and President Gator Records.