Concert Review – Branches Band
The band known as “Branches” performed at our church on Wednesday evening from 7:00 – 8:15. It really was a remarkable event and for everyone in attendance; it was much more than a performance, it was in fact worship.
Branches consists of four musicians; Rachel, Andy, Jeremy and Joel. Rachel plays percussion and sings, Andy plays a Martin guitar and sings, Jeremy mostly played the electric bass guitar but also played the keyboards for one song, a recorder-like instrument for another and sang as well. And last but not least, Joel played the keyboards and the twelve string guitar and also sang harmony on a few pieces.
The band arrived around 3:00 for the 7:00 PM show and quickly set-up and did their sound check within about an hour. After this time, they were gracious enough to play a few songs with two members of our local band (Kenaniah) before heading out for a quick bite to eat. Kenaniah was missing the heart of their band (Ruth – our keyboard player and lead singer) but we glided through three of the songs that we were learning for an upcoming service on Sunday – “Shout to the Lord”, “Did You Hear the Mountains Tremble?” and “More Love, More Power”, of which, Branches was only musically familiar with the first piece but that didn’t seem to have much bearing on their ability to play along and embellish our strumming.
The first thing that impressed me about Branches was their upfront planning and legwork. It was incredible and actually paid off. Weeks before the concert, Jeremy sent out emails to the nearby churches within our fellowship to alert them of the event and he also sent us posters and press-releases to use ourselves to reach out to the community. We put the materials to good use and had about 6 visitors in attendance; most from neighboring churches, but one local person dropped by as a result of an email sent out to our prospect list announcing the concert.
Branches played mostly their own arrangements of hymns but added a few original pieces and a couple of contemporary favorites as well (“Holy is the Lord” by Chris Tomlin and “Speak O Lord” by Keith and Kristin Getty).
From a technical and musical perspective, their sound is soft but clear and apparently very well rehearsed. Their vocals are exceptional with tight harmonies not only between the wedded team of Rachel & Andy, but both Joel and Jeremey chimed in on two breath taking a-cappella arrangements; one being of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” which almost brought me to my knees as I sat there listening in awe of the Fortress they were describing through music. What can I say, I’m a Lutheran and these guys proved that hymnody can sound hip and cool while still being worshipful and respectful as those words of Christ dwelt in us richly.
Branches do not use any effect pedals and plug each instrument directly into their Mackie PA system for a clean sound. Each player also used a Shure in-ear monitor and as a band; they knew each other very well and did not invade each other’s musical space. By this, I mean that the band sounded really well together and they knew how to add just the right amount of instrumentation to let those wonderful lyrics shine with just the right amount of accompaniment. Their timing really jumped out at me as impeccable and has reminded me of my own need for improvement. In fact, during warm-up, I asked if they had a click track in their monitors because it sounded that good. I liked Andy’s response: “No, Rachel is our click track.” At one point during the concert, I thought that I heard a backing track; but then I looked at Andy and realized that it was his guitar work, and I do mean this as a compliment. Branches does not rely on any backing tracks or loops.
One last point that I’d like to make is that the band made liberal use of scripture throughout the evening by interspersing selected texts in between the songs that for me helped to draw attention to the songs, gave the reasoning behind their song choices, and, it helped make the difference between a performance and worship.
But the coup-de-gras awaited me in the parking lot. As the wife and I left, we were struck by the loud ringing of “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” which emanated from the vehicle in front of us as we left the facility; undoubtedly a product of their recent purchase of a Branches CD. Now that’s a Lutheran.
You can reach the band at this site if you are interested in booking them for your church: