If the name Fort Pastor makes you envision an old time army chaplain band, immediately erase that mental portrait. Then shake up your Etch A Sketch and start over. Turn those vertical and horizontal knobs until something approximating an acoustic, jamming, socially-active trio comes into view. But even then, you'll still fall short of the complete picture. That's because no mere children's toy can successfully replicate this unique musical act's precise image. It just doesn't fit any predetermined mold.
This Orlando, FL trio consists of Brant Christopher Menswar on lead vocals and guitar; Jeffrey Todd Keel on vocals, and resonator guitar; and Jono Callow on didgeridoo, percussion, guitar and too many other instruments to mention. Callow's otherworldly didgeridoo gives almost every song they play a unique, world music feel, but - as with any musical trio - each member is essential.
Fort Pastor's new release, Beautiful Imperfection on KOCH Records, is expertly written and performed. It's also highly issue-oriented too. But Fort Pastor, unlike so many other mostly 'all-talk, no-action' pop stars, take their activism out of the studio and onto the streets. In fact, they have formed the Social Justice Army, which incorporates rubber-meets-the-road social work into every concert date they play. Nevertheless, this intentionally progressive approach doesn't mean all three players share one united mindset all the time. "I'm a democrat, Jeff's a republican and Jono's an Australian," only half-jokes Menswar. "So, at times it takes a lot of explanation and discussion before we can even come to an agreement on what's going to be said in a song."
Group members all agreed to cover Seal's "Crazy", however, and it is one of the new album's standout cuts. The song has evolved from its original R&B groove, into Fort Pastor's non-R&B - yet still soulful -- vibe. "We feel a lot of times that people look at us as being a little bit crazy," Menswar admits, "being that we're Christians, but we don't play a lot of churches. We kind of go to the places where we feel people need to hear what we're singing about and sometimes that's bars, sometimes it's prisons and wherever our message needs to be heard. So we're kind of a non-traditional band of Christians." Yet much like the Blues Brothers, these men are without a doubt on a beyond-church-walls mission from God. "We'd much prefer to sing to people that haven't heard it, than preach to the choir."
Listeners will quickly pick up on acoustic jam band influences running through Beautiful Imperfection, as it incorporates sounds akin to those popularized by the Dave Matthews Band. But perhaps Fort Pastor's biggest current influence is not quite so well known. "While we were recording this album -- over the last, say, six months or so -- we've really been influenced by The Jon Butler Trio," says Menswar. "Beyond him, I'd say Michael Franti/Spearhead. That was our current state of mind during this album." In addition to these more modern musical examples, there's also a strong imprint of singer/songwriters, like Billy Joel, Elton John, and James Taylor. (And don't tell anybody this, but one member in particular grew up listening to '80s hair bands, so some of those strands also seep in).
If you still have your Etch A Sketch handy and you can draw a good zombie likeness, congratulations! You've just illustrated the inspired notion behind Fort Pastor's moniker. "The name comes from a zombie movie; it comes from a movie called Dawn of the Dead," Menswar explains. "In that movie, Fort Pastor is the military fort that is the safe haven that everyone in town is trying to get to, to keep away from the zombies. And for us, it was more of a political statement, dating back to the '60s when zombie movies kind of first were in their heyday. At that time, the film was much more of a political statement about society and our consumerism and our need to consume everything around us -- where we slavishly become zombies to it."
In the big picture, you may want view Fort Pastor in your mind's eye as a social justice army of three, out to wake the dead.