And the Word Was Made Fresh

pc muñoz and the amen corner a good deed in a weary world (beevine records)

What is a good deed? What’s the point of trying to be good in a world that’s clearly a mess? And how do you even begin to do that?

These are the themes that pc muñoz and the amen corner tackle in this, their third CD. This San Francisco-based music collective cook up a provocative—if uneven—stew of spoken-word, funk, gospel, and experimental electronics that gets your head bobbin’ to the beat and nodding thoughtfully to the lyrics too.

The CD takes the form of songs interspersed with or introduced by spoken word snippets that seem to be excerpts of man-on-the-street interviews. Average people are asked: what is a good deed? And then a song follows, as if to illuminate the thought just offered. The overall effect is that of a quest for hope and meaning.

The lyrics are definitely ambitious in the way they seek to sketch a person’s inner ambivalence, and they are often stronger than the melodies, which on tracks like “miss you so much” can sometimes seem derivative. However, there are still some strong cuts. “high minded man,” for example is a peek into the soul hunger of a bobo (“bourgeois bohemian,” as coined by David Brooks in Bobos in Paradise . “legacy” ruminates on the history of colonization. “the last campfire song” bears of evidence of influences ranging from Leonard Cohen to Johnny Cash and Morcheeba to LeAnn Rimes , of all things. But the heart of the CD—and its best cut by far—is the spoken-word meditation, “the wages of sin,” which features a rap monologue supported by a chorus. They ask themselves, “When I knock on the door of heaven, will I get in?”

Muñoz identifies himself as a “loose-cannon Catholic,” someone who wrestles with his faith through his art. In this light, a good deed is not a Christian or gospel CD in the normal market sense. You won’t find much here to remind you of folks like Michael W. Smith or Hezekiah Walker . Oddly enough, perhaps because the group’s sound and message are so singular, the pop culture markers that serve as the best comparison points to its music are not other works by musicians.

Granted, there are elements of jazz groove à la Soulive or Medeski Martin & Wood , neo-soul vocals akin to those of Amel Larrieux (formerly of Groove Theory), and hip-hop that is equal parts Speech (of Arrested Development) and Chali Tuna (as featured on the Los Angeles-based Ozomatli‘s debut). But because of the free form and culturally fluid way muñoz and the crew wrestle with the big questions in their lyrics, this is a sonic experience that would definitely appeal to fans of the public radio show This American Life or even Kevin Smith’s recent film Dogma . If you are open to being challenged by what you hear, give this a listen.