who: The Restoration, with Marshall Brown and His Shades of Blue
where: The Emerald Lounge
when: Saturday, Dec. 29 (Doors at 8 p.m. $5. emeraldlounge.com)
Like most musicians, Daniel Machado offers lofty influences while explaining the work of The Restoration, the eclectic chamber-folk outfit he’s led for more than three years. But he’s not naming other bands. He speaks of William Faulkner’s mastery of narration and setting, Flannery O’Connor’s concise and vivid details, the rich community of characters in Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio.
The Restoration is a proficient musical ensemble, nimbly connecting various strains of folk and rock, but it’s the band’s prickly stories of life in the small-town South that steal the show.
Honor the Father, the group’s new EP, is its second-straight concept album. Two years ago, Constance LP targeted race relations in antebellum South Carolina, following the struggle of an interracial couple and their progeny in a fictionalized version of Lexington, The Restoration’s hometown.
As explosive as that story was, Honor might just top it: The saga of Roman Bright finds the Christian zealot using strict interpretations of scripture as the motivation for the abuse and subsequent murders of his wife and daughter. It’s the first effort in a planned EP trilogy that Machado says will explore various interpretations of religion.
“That’s really the heart of all of them,” he explains, “exploring the chasm between one person’s interpretation and another person’s interpretation, and how often in society and in families it pushes people apart, even though they’re supposed to be part of the same community, or claim to be part of the same theology.”
Intricately constructed, Honor places complex characters into allegorical roles. There’s the sheriff “who can’t make service every Sunday,” an extension of Machado’s agnostic viewpoint. His writing partner, Adam Corbett, is a music minister. The friendly tension between their beliefs helped foster the album’s religious conflict.
Roman, a good man brought to evil by extremist principles, represents organized Christianity. His wife Diana — named for the Roman goddess — represents the subjugated role that women are allotted by literal readings of scripture.
The story’s terrible end is hastened by energetic arrangements that slyly shift from ragtime to early shades of rock ‘n’ roll as the story moves from the ‘30s to the ‘50s.
Roman’s trial makes explicit the sources of his rigid beliefs. Machado plays the role, his soft croon building to a crackling, unhinged rant as Roman references the verses that led him to his terrible acts, railing against the “hypocrites” and “false witnesses” that don’t see things his way. “Your faith is just a shallow lie!” he cries. To help listeners interpret for themselves, the printed lyrics note the verses Roman relies on in his defense.
“I think one of the most troubling verses on the album is Genesis 3:16,” Machado says of the line where God tells Eve that her husband “shall rule over you.” “That’s a message from God to the first woman on earth. How are you supposed to reconcile that? I would say that my Christian argument is he’s only talking to one person about one specific thing. But the same person might tell you that that part of the Bible is supposed to be a metaphor for men and women and humankind.”
Machado’s stances on these issues are decisive, but The Restoration isn’t out to force a particular viewpoint. Machado wants the story to foster debate, to confront listeners with shocking situations and allow them to reach their own conclusions.
“It’s an interesting topic to figure out the space between interpretations,” he says. “I want people to have that discussion.”
Jordan Lawrence is music editor at Shuffle Magazine and a contributing writer at The Independent.