WANT TO GO?
The Carpenter Ants
WHEN: 10 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: The Empty Glass, 410 Elizabeth St.
INFO: 304-345-3914 or www.emptyglass.com
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- You can tell Carpenter Ants guitarist and vocalist Michael Lipton wants to get past the question quickly.
But it's such a usual question to ask a band that you have to ask just to get it out of the way. Why the name?
"We were in Idaho with 'Mountain Stage,'" he says, seated in the kitchen of his East End home as the smaller of his two dogs, Miga, hops up and down off his lap.
"I saw an advertisement -- 'Carpenter Ants' with a slash through it. I'd never heard of a carpenter ant and said 'That'd be a funny band name.'"
And so, inspired by a pest control ad, one of West Virginia's longest running bands -- and perhaps one of its only gospel-channeling, secular R&B and country funk ensembles -- was born. The Carpenter Ants mark 25 years together this year and showcase an ambitiously produced fifth album, "Ants & Uncles," in a CD release show at The Empty Glass at 10 p.m. Saturday.
"That's it. Dumb story. Move on," says Lipton.
Moving on, as the rest of the quartet filters into the house for a Wednesday rehearsal, there is the matter of labels and genres.
"We've gone through different phases," Lipton says, as frontman Charlie Tee drops onto a kitchen chair. Drummer and vocalist Jupie Little and harmonizing bass player Ted Harrison pull up the rear.
"We were doing kind of R&B and country blues kind of stuff. Then we started getting into gospel, so we pretty much got immersed in it."
So much so that in addition to covering the rousing "He Saved My Soul" by Claude Jeter of the Swan Silvertones and the hymn "This World is Not My Home" by Albert Brumley Sr., on the new CD, Lipton and Little have written several original gospel tunes for the band, including "It's A Blessing," also featured on the recording.
Mixing secular and sacred music, and cross-fertilizing the qualities of each, is a hallmark of the Ants' tight harmony-driven sound, which enables them to move around among venues.
"We play churches services where we do only gospel," says Lipton. "We rarely don't do any gospel songs at this point. The Holmes Brothers are probably the closest thing I can think of. They do secular stuff, they do gospel stuff and it's got the same energy and the same feel to it."
Then again, not being a band of choirboys, the sacred butts elbows with more earthly values on the 14-song "Ants & Uncles" (which is available at Taylor Books, Budget Tapes and Records, cdbaby.com and by e-mailing carpentera...@gmail.com).