Published Aug 25, 2008Its maybe a stretch to call Agnostic Mountain Gospel Choirs third effort, Ten Thousand, a concept album, but by packaging it in the form of a Hell Bank Note, the Calgary old-timey quartet came up with a novel way to pay tribute to their pre-war blues heroes Son House, Skip James and Sleepy John Estes.
Hell Bank Notes are a long-standing Asian tradition, commonly burned at funerals in order to give the deceased currency in the afterlife. "We see it as good karma, says guitarist/vocalist Bob Keelaghan. "I was in a Chinese grocery store and just happened to see a package of Hell Bank Notes in a ten thousand denomination. We already had the song 10,000 Years, and $10,000 was the budget for the record, so it seemed like a good idea to do the album cover in that style.
The band have always tried to balance an faithful representation of their influences with their own ideas, which Keelaghan says is coming into play more and more. "It was fun when we started the band, playing these old songs we wanted to play, but now were at the point where we have to stand on own two feet as far as songwriting goes. That was our biggest challenge with this record, deciding if we had something to say, or if we were just going to continue on reciting what other people have said.
The band strike a nice balance on Ten Thousand, enough to have earned a rousing endorsement from UK roots phenomenon Seasick Steve, which led to his label picking up European rights for the album. Still, Keelaghan says with typical Canadian humility, "I guess we also decided that printing the album like a Hell Bank Note means that if people dont like it, they can always burn it. Jason Schneider