Sound Advice: The Homeless Gospel Choir with Zach Quinn (June 20)

The Homeless Gospel Choir plays Southgate House Revival.

click to enlarge The Homeless Gospel Choir - Photo: Provided
Photo: Provided
The Homeless Gospel Choir
Derek Zanetti is the Folk singer America needs right now. He’s who Woody Guthrie would have been had he been born in the early ’80s and raised on ’90s Punk Rock. They both share a masterful way with words, understand communication and value making a connection with listeners. They’re both all about justice. And both have a sharp sense of humor at the ready — a secret weapon used to disarm and connect.

Performing and recording as The Homeless Gospel Choir, Zanetti is a Pittsburgh-based singer/songwriter whose lyrics often use a conversational tone — a delivery method that helps reach more ears. Zanetti’s songs are effusive, but there isn’t a syllable wasted as he unravels a stream of lyrics that deal with both the personal (depression, self-loathing, suicide and embracing one’s uniqueness) and the bigger picture (the current political divide, wealth inequality, religious wars, guns and much, much more). He is a crystal-clear-eyed observationalist and whatever the topic, Zanetti takes it on directly (go elsewhere for flowery prose) and with a blunt honesty, which can manifest itself as soulful empathy or spitfire anger. But, as mentioned, Zanetti is also a very funny and clever thinker, refreshingly never cynical (though sarcasm plays a part). All of these layers and levels add an engaging depth to the music… and that’s just the words.

Zanetti largely performs solo with his acoustic guitar, but he also occasionally records a song as a full-on Punk Pop ripper. A leaf on the same Folk Punk branch as Billy Bragg and Frank Turner (who is a huge fan of Zanetti’s work), awareness of The Homeless Gospel Choir has risen with each subsequent album release, the culmination of which (so far) was 2014’s I Used to Be So Young, his first for Anti-Flag’s A-F Records. With his charmingly unpolished voice (which alternately bears a passing resemblance to The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn, Camper Van Beethoven-era David Lowery, The Dead Milkmen’s Joe Genaro and a fragile, breaking Conor Oberst), Zanetti covers a lot of ground on the album. But the one line that sticks out — partly because it appears in more than one song — and gives a good sense of what he’s trying to do lyrically on I Used to Be So Young is, “Jesus Christ didn’t die for you to be an asshole.” 

Zanetti recently released the incredibly catchy single “Normal,” a rocked-up version of a song he’s been playing live about finding solace in being different (“I found my escape/In that Green Day tape”). A new full-length that reportedly skews toward the personal and delves into Zanetti’s experiences with mental illness (only Trump’s inanity could frustrate a protest singer to shift away from politics) is scheduled for release this fall, according to NPR. 

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