Reaping what they sow

“Our fans are punks and preachers,” says Plowshares front man David Earl Tomlinson. (He also says, “Listen up y’all, got something to say, a little bit of whiskey goes a mighty long way,” in his near-perfect blues rocker “Local Anesthesia.”) The point is not so much that Tomlinson can pull collaborators, friends and fans from a deep and varied pool (he can), but that Plowshares is the band of the people. Tomlinson didn’t say that. Lots of bands try to levy the claim, but this one doesn’t have to: It’s fact.

Feeling no pain: The Plowshares are set to release their new EP, Local Anesthesia. PHOTO BY JULIE COCHRANE

Aside from singer/songwriter Tomlinson threatening to book a gig at Club Xcapades “just so we can say we’ve played in strip clubs and in churches,” the Plowshares have long held an evolving vision bolstered by a substantial cross section of local talent. The group’s earliest shows (before they even had a name, or knew a band would rise from the jam session) included the likes of pedal steel players Scott Sharpe and Matt Smith, and bassist Fatty of the Kat Williams Band. Drummer Imhotep, a prolific percussionist if there ever was one, was there from the start: the end of Tomlinson’s previous project, the Kuumba & David Band, which led to the formation of the Plowshares. If the band’s inception was organic rather than intentional, the same could be said for the Plowshares’ loosely orchestrated songs. The drumming is bombastic, the guitar rough and driving, the vocals soulful, raw and battered.

And that same boozy abandon is how they approach their gospel numbers. But ask Tomlinson if he considers the act to be irreverent and he’s quick with a “Hell, no.”

“I’m always going to play spiritual music,” he says. “I love it so much. It’s been a total catalyst for me.”

He adds, “People can relate.”

In concept, the Plowshares is an unwieldy experiment. The band takes its name from the peace plea in the Bible’s book of Isaiah: “And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” The group is made up of a white guy who discovered his singing talent during drunken rounds of prison songs, slave songs and folk spirituals, a Mardi Gras Indian on bass drum, and a revolving and disparate cast of characters playing any and everything else.

But there’s something so disarming, so unabashedly grandiloquent and perfectly imperfect that, even from the back corners of bars and the noisiest of sidewalks, the Plowshares shine.

They are, in essence, leading a non-dogmatic tent revival as altruistic apostles of unrepentant glee.

Much of that charisma is born of the undeniable chemistry between Tomlinson and Imhotep. Of his cohort, the singer states, “We had a magic connection from the beginning,” and “Tep has mojo in spades.” That synchronicity is in top form on the band’s aptly named EP, Local Anesthesia, a four-song collection of well-known Plowshares numbers (three originals and a rendition of “Down by the Riverside”) performed by the core duo. “No fluff, no filler,” Tomlinson says of the abbreviated album.

But even as Anesthesia captures this group at a golden moment, change is already afoot. Imhotep is gearing up for a tour with local world-meets-soul newcomers Rising Appalachia; Tomlinson is introducing more original music into the mix, along with a drum kit. Still, the front man promises that a Plowshares show (whether impromptu or on stage) will maintain what he considers to be key: “Music is about spontaneous connection with people,” he declares. “That’s the best part of being a musician.”

who: The Plowshares EP-release party
what: Gritty folk and raw gospel
where: Grey Eagle
when: Thursday, May 29. 8:30 p.m. ($8. 232-5800.)

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts writer and editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs.

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