With a name like Bishop Allen, you might think Justin Rice and Christian Rudder’s band is of the Christian or gospel genre. Think again—Bishop Allen, whose name actually comes from a street where Rice and Rudder lived, makes mellow music more suited to belong to the alternative/indie rock category.
Bishop Allen has a pretty unusual history, even for an indie band. The band’s debut album, Charm School, was released in May 2003. Band leaders Justin Rice and Christian Rudder wrote, performed, recorded and released all thirteen tracks of the album, which received good reviews. In 2006, the band released an EP every month of the year. If you’re not a music and/or album enthusiast, you might not know that an EP, short for “extended play,” is a short album—longer than a single and shorter than a full album—usually containing around four to seven tracks. The Broken String is actually comprised mainly of cuts originally released in EPs from 2006. Bishop Allen’s sophomore album, Bishop Allen & The Broken String, was released July 24. The Broken String represents Bishop Allen’s first ever album actually recorded in a studio.
The main musicians of Bishop Allen, Rice and Rudder, have been joined by various other singers and instrumentalists throughout their history. Joining them on The Broken String are about a dozen other singers and instrumentalists, most notably vocalist Darbie Nowatka and drummer Cully Symington.
However interesting their history, Bishop Allen doesn’t exactly deliver an impressive sophomore album. In most of the cuts lead singer Justin Rice sounds like he could benefit from some voice lessons; at a few points his voice is actually painful to listen to. Rice is definitely outsung by supporting vocalist Darbie Nowatka, who only sings the lead on “Butterfly Nets,” the best song on the album. Bishop Allen should definitely consider replacing Rice with Nowatka as lead singer. The music of The Broken String is mellow and the tempo is never fast. About half of the music consists of simple melodies, sometimes just played over and over. Occasionally it sounds like people are just randomly making noise with their instruments with no melody in mind. Bishop Allen’s sound is somewhat reminiscent of more mainstream artists John Mayer and Switchfoot, but with a softer and slower style.
Even when the music’s not great, Bishop Allen’s lyrics are always interesting and often well-written. Included with the album is a twelve-page booklet that contains each song’s lyrics in a story format.
While most of The Broken String’s cuts waver between okay and not great, track six, “Like Castanets” truly stands out as god-awful. It makes Bishop Allen sound like a wannabe mariachi band. I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire band was drunk when they wrote and performed this song. The album’s bests songs are clumped together in the middle—“Butterfly Nets,” “Shrinking Violet” and “Corazon.”
While The Broken String isn’t terrible, I’d recommend passing on this album but looking into “Butterfly Nets.”