Christian Ballew is the founder, songwriter and overall visionary behind the engaging six–piece Atlanta band called Christ, Lord. He plays accordion, banjo, piano and organ and sings. There’s violin, trumpet, clarinet and even a guitar and standup bass in the lineup.
The sound has its deepest roots in klezmer, the melodic dance–band music of Eastern European Jewish culture. It’s also a pastiche of cabaret, theater, gypsy jazz and folk balladry; among his influences, Ballew names a motley crew: Jacques Brel, Yves Montand, Serge Gainsbourg, Tom Waits, Man Man, Miles Davis and world music innovators Beirut.
The sole Christ, Lord album is called Magnalia Christi, and all the song titles are in Latin (apparently).
We spoke with Ballew this week, and while he was extremely friendly and cooperative, we found him to be just as inscrutable as his music suggests.
And that, you bet, just adds to the mystique.
"I would say that dates back to my childhood. I'm from the United States, from Utah, but my father's from Colombia and my grandmother was fascinated by spirituality in general. She had a friend who was a klezmer arranger for six or seven bands, and she would take us to a lot of shows. I think it was kind of ingrained in me that way."
The right players
"It's been hard to find people because there's somewhat of a certain style or pastiche that's required to achieve the aesthetics that I would like to achieve with the music. We had two drummers for a while and they would do kind of like math rock drum stuff. It was OK with the music; it didn't really add to it the way it should. So it's been difficult to find someone who was like-minded musically, although a lot of people have been very interested. Just in the past six months we've got six steady members that are all pretty enthusiastic and put a lot of work into the group."
"I think a lot of it is exploration of music in general. As you see in mythology and religion, and literature and culture, there are trends and motifs ... what I try to do is find those motifs and bring those into a lot of the types of music that are very interesting to me. And for whatever reason are compelling and have also been kind of marginalized."
The band name
"The band was named Christ, Lord as an arbitrary decision originally. My birth name is Christian Shepherd, and that sort of stands testament to the familial and societal relationship with religion I grew up in. As it's been scrutinized, I've realized it is much more than that. It can be a cry of joy, praise, anger, anguish, sadness etc. Likewise, no person can pigeonhole our style or personas or values through the name. In that way, we are like a speakeasy; you don't know what's inside until you have the courage/curiosity/concern to cross that threshold."
8:30 p.m. March 9, Blowin' Smoke
4 p.m. March 10, Live Wire Music Hall