I was worried a couple years ago when Chris Schlarb, the band/cult-leader of the Psychic Temple, told me he was going in a more folk/pop direction in the next album. I was doing a lot of juggling of balls back then when I was hosting Schlarb’s show in San Antonio in 2014 in support of his solo album, Making the Saint, but I’m not sure if Pet Sounds entered into the conversation (which if it did, is a bit of a shame, since I had woefully yet to hear the album back then). Nevertheless, vocals were mentioned, something a little less familiar was around the corner. This was said in the midst of him embarking across the country on his own, experimenting with what the results of touring can be, putting himself out there as an artist and a businessman, and revealing his talent as a guitarist, craftsman, vocalists, and teepee builder (though his psychic temple, the frame in front of which he performed his solo shows, seemed more half a teepee, more a teepee). This work seemed foundational to the work that he would bring to the rest of his band in III, the aptly named third release from Chris Schlarb and the Psychic Temple.
The album does indeed go in a more rock-oriented direction but it still never sounds like anything outside what this band has been capable of playing before. Schlarb’s vocals are straightforward, his voice a bit corky, a bit sleepy, perfect for his arrangements, and more in the forefront than ever before. They’re sweeping; they take walks. These are the kind of arrangements one would describe a rock or folk band that’s moving in a more jazz direction, while those genres have jazz at heart, the dials are cranked and readjusted accordingly in another direction here. This is like early 2010s Iron and Wine or Wilco crossing the Psychic Temple on aural crossroads.
It’s an album carefully arranged, each song is an actual song, not that Schlarb ever had this problem before but there’s something for even the casual listener to grab onto, and these songs grab back. “You Ain’t a Star” & “Brother O” seriously rock when they aren’t tossing in string solos. “I Don’t Need Nothin'” and “Road Song” are brimming with folk charm. However, the instrumental pieces in the midst of these songs, tieing the album together into a cohesive whole while marvelling all on their own, are what raises III above the bar, and album closer “NO RECALL” is soulfully brilliant and worth the whole price of admission. It’s yet another fine close to a Psychic Temple album, establishing a pattern last songs with resonance and punch.
With III, yes, the Psychic Temple are adding a new testament, filled with even more graciousness and freedom in the music, more than mere jazz. It’s one of the boldest works Schlarb has made in an ever increasingly bold body of work. It is fantastic and worth revisiting for years.
Tabor Allen – acoustic drums, percussion
Dave Easley – banjo, pedal steel guitar
Philip Glenn – mandolin
Sheridan Riley – acoustic drums
Aaron Roche – acoustic guitar
Chris Schlarb – 6- & 12- string acoustic guitar, lead vocal
Anthony Shadduck – double bass
Nedelle Torrisi – vocals
Jeremy Trezona – saxophone
Mike Watt – electric bass
Elliot Bergman – baritone saxophone
Frank Matson – vocals
Steuart Liebig – 6-string fretless electric bass
Ted Byrnes – acoustic drums, percussion
Avi Zahner-Isenberg – acoustic guitar
David Hood – electric bass
Liz Janes – backing vocals
Spooner Oldham – Hammond organ
Adriana Schlarb – backing vocals
Kris Tiner – trumpet
Composed, Arranged, Engineered, and Produced by Chris Schlarb at BIG EGO, Long Beach, CA.
Mixed by Ronan Chris Murphy and Chris Schlarb at BIG EGO, Long Beach, CA.
III, the latest album from Psychic Temple, is out May 6 on Asthmatic Kitty.
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.