Get ready for a service the likes of which you’ve never attended before, where the message is served up fresh and loud by Clayton Bellamy and the Congregation through a high-octane blend of gospel, R&B and riff-driven hard rock.
Not a churchgoer? No worries. The church of rock and roll is open to all. The only requirement is a willingness to worship at the altar of love. “And love is what this is all about,” Bellamy says, “The message in these songs is all about that. Even if things are bad, when you cover them in love they get better.”
On Welcome to the Congregation (Anthem), the gospel according to Bellamy and company isn’t ‘sex, drugs and rock and roll’. “It’s more peace, love, understanding… and rock and roll’,” the Alberta-based singer/songwriter says, laughing. “Everything everybody needs comes out of love, even if people think they don’t need or deserve it.”
That’s a major lyrical driver throughout the album, and nowhere more so than on ‘Church of Rock and Roll’, which reads like the opening to an old time tent meeting with Bellamy as the preacher man. It’s equally clear on the album’s lone ballad, ‘One Thing Right’ and ‘The Healing – a seamless blend of 50’s rock, old time gospel and 70’s era power rock; a track that ties the entire record together and finds Bellamy expanding on his prescription for peace.
Folks who want to let love rule, however, have to stand up for it; something Bellamy telegraphs on tracks like ‘Commandment #11’ and lead single, ‘Resistorz’ – a swampy, blues-fuelled stomp featuring Bellamy on harp trading licks with the Congregation’s backing vocalists. Standing up for love is rarely easy. It requires a willingness to grind it out through the dark times and to take the hard road even if there’s no guarantee it’s going to lead you anywhere, which is exactly what Bellamy covers on ‘The Devil You Know’.
“That was a sky song,” Bellamy says. “The line ‘the devil I know, still better than the one that I don’t’ just dropped out of the blue. If you live long enough, everybody gets hit by the pain train, and, for me, when that happened, music was the one place I could go.”
For Bellamy, Welcome to the Congregation is a complete reset. “I felt I had to shed my skin and do something that spoke to where I was now, to strip away fifteen years of writing country songs and draw from a completely different well.”
Audiences will know Bellamy from The Road Hammers and from his solo records (Everyone’s a Dreamer and Five Crow Silver). “But you don’t know this,” he says. “It’s like I’ve finally found my music, a combination of the blues, rock and gospel; a mixture of all my favourite bands in one.
“I had an uncle who was a huge audiophile and made mix-tapes as Christmas gifts,” Bellamy explains. “So when I was eight I was listening to Aerosmith, Otis Redding, the Allman Brothers, the Rolling Stones, and The Beatles. I didn’t know who they were. It was just cool because he gave it to me. Recently, when he passed, I inherited his collection – 1500 original print LPs. I started listening and it all came back, where I came from musically.”
As on previous efforts, Bellamy captures all the fire and furious energy of his live show on record – something that helped the Hammers (a SOCAN, JUNO and 5-time CCMA Award-winning act), become the highest selling Canadian country band of all time. But this is not a country record. On Welcome to the Congregation Bellamy channels a huge range influences from rock legends like The Who and Cheap Trick, to 90’s Alt rock and vintage R&B – a perfect storm of musical influences. “I started from scratch, but I knew exactly the ultimate target was a rock and roll tent revival.”
Characterized by Bellamy’s blazing guitars and signature urgency as a vocalist, replete with jagged rock and roll edges and Aerosmith-worthy riffs, Welcome to the Congregation is a no holds barred, rip it up rock record. Unapologetically raw and undeniably powerful, it’s music he intends to lose himself in on stage and invite audiences to do the same. “That’s the whole idea of the Congregation. Live, you’re part of it. It’s rock and roll church; we’re bringing the gospel and I’m the preacher man.”
That’s a persona Bellamy’s going to live to the limit on stage when he comes rumbling through your town with a ten-piece band made up a revolving cast of players and featuring two drummers, full horns and a backup vocal section. Live, Bellamy says, they’ll really be ripping it up, growing the congregation, and bringing the love at every show.
As far as giving people something to have faith in, there’s nothing better. “It’s a scary time and that was another impetus for Welcome to the Congregation. It seems strange to have to repeat it, but we really have to love up on one another. That’s what this is all about. We’re all here to listen to music, to be transported for a short period of time from whatever we’re going through to a place where we’re just enjoying ourselves and getting uplifted.”
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