Review Summary: A brilliant finale and a testament to the power of storytelling through music.
The Church of the Good Thief is a natural continuation of the sound the first two Right Away, Great Captain albums introduced, but after just one listen it became evident that this was the intention. Being that the first two were as consistent as they were, The Church of the Good Thief simply needed to close the trilogy, to provide a satisfying ending and create an engrossing whole. It has done this and more. The Church of the Good Thief manages to strike a perfect balance between the old and the new, moving ahead with the already established Right Away, Great Captain sound but introducing something new as well. It’s clever and has been crafted with more detail and care, resulting in some of the most intimate and engaging songs Andy Hull has ever written. It forms an album that has everything it should have and more – subtle but brilliant instrumentation that elevates every song, introspective and unique lyrics, and a surprisingly dark stretch of songs on the second half, a darkness that has been used on both previous albums but never to such a richly satisfying effect. Hull’s ability to tell such a heartbreaking story combined with his impeccable musical craftsmanship creates one of the finest redemption stories told in music perhaps ever.
The first track, Blame, serves as a reminder of what Right Away, Great Captain songs consist of. Quiet guitar and quiet piano fall quietly behind Andy’s voice, a voice capable of creating a bone chillingly eerie feel or a louder, more plainly emotive one as his voice soars over beautiful harmonies. His guitar playing serves the song well, often multi layered and complex, but never abrasive. Similar piano playing will accompany it, always understated and haunting, allowing the music to breathe. This mix allows the listener to understand the feelings conveyed in each song, and as each song builds our connection to it does as well, an effect that never falls flat or results in anything short of breathtaking. Some songs build up to something slightly larger than the established Right Away, Great Captain sound, such as “I Wait for You”, featuring two guitars and even drums. This never results in a loss of intimacy however, simply conveying the pain in each song more clearly, making it at times vivid. The vocals are always just as good, and when Andy’s voice soars it creates something both powerful and uplifting.
Whether it was intentional or not, The Church of the Good thief seems to be divided into two halves. The first half is filled more peaceful and musically mellow songs, fitting in comfortably with anything on the past two albums. The second half however is incredibly dark and forceful, emerging with some of the most powerful Right Away, Great Captain songs to date. “Barely Bit Me” builds up to a stunning climax. Andy sings and then howls “Mother I noticed/one of the men on the cross was allowed to come down”, as the guitar raises strength and Andy aggressively and beautifully harmonizes with himself. I initially expected this trait to be unique to “Barely Bit Me” but quickly found it was present throughout. “Rotten Black Root” contains some of his most bitter and angry lyrics, and “We Were Made Out of Lightning” is without a doubt the most eerie song present on the album. The Mark Knoplfer sounding electric guitar is quiet and subdued, never being released and thus building tension. Even though we experience some of the protagonist’s darkest and most enraged thoughts he still earns our sympathy – a testament to the power of Andy’s song writing and the power of the story itself.
The album would have been extremely memorable had it ended here, leaving a long lasting impression. The two part closer however, Memories From The End Parts 1 & 2, provides a perfect ending to the album and trilogy as a whole. In the first part he sings “I want it all” throughout, of course not specifying what “it’ is. This sense of mystery just makes it more memorable, and brings the song above the surprisingly still guitar playing. The second part is a direct continuation of the first, still revolving around “it.” By now the listener is beyond curious, but it becomes clear that the meaning is up for interpretation, and as the guitar stops and Andy’s voice continues to hum we’re left waiting for more. It’s a beautiful and heartbreaking ending, and the line “Today is the day I die for it” just adds to the already existing sense of mystery and intrigue. Even though the first album was sad it certainly wasn’t this dark or devoid of hope, serving as a reminder of the musical evolution that occurred over the course of each album.
On its own, The Church of the Good Thief is a beautiful and haunting album. When placed after its two predecessors however it becomes something else entirely. It provides a satisfying ending but also connects the three albums together. It’s a tale of twisted redemption that takes the entire Right Away, Great Captain series to somewhere unexpected and new, while staying true to everything the project is about. It’s a near perfect close to one of the most unique and refreshing musical projects in quite some time.