Search - William Moore, American Traditional, Anonymous :: American Angels - Songs of Hope, Redemption, & Glory

American Angels - Songs of Hope, Redemption, & Glory
William Moore, American Traditional, Anonymous
American Angels - Songs of Hope, Redemption, & Glory
Genres: Folk, Special Interest, New Age, Pop, Classical
 
This, Anonymous 4's final recording, is a break from their usual "early music" periods and locations; it presents American music, religious in nature, from the 18th and 19th centuries. And it's absolutely beautiful from st...  more »

      
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This, Anonymous 4's final recording, is a break from their usual "early music" periods and locations; it presents American music, religious in nature, from the 18th and 19th centuries. And it's absolutely beautiful from start to finish. Their normal, exquisite technique and purity here blend to sound the way we imagined the ladies' choir in church meetings in America past might have sounded: sweet, sincere, and with harmonies recognizable yet somehow fresh. Some of the songs begin with the women singing "fa, so la" exercises, which was called "shape note" singing because some places taught singing with notes as shapes--circle, rectangle, diamond, triangle. But it's the music that counts, and there are treasures here. They include two versions of "Amazing Grace," one familiar, one with an unusual melody and a piece called "Blooming Vale" which is as sophisticated as anything on their previous albums. "Shall We Gather at the River" is performed with a clarity and loveliness that makes us forget that it's normally sung as background to movies about the Great Depression. The foursome sometimes sing in rich harmonies and occasionally alone or in pairs or trios. This is glorious Americana and highly recommended. --Robert Levine

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CD Reviews

Harmonies and stylistics
Diana Lewis-Chun | 10/19/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I admit it: this is less a review and more of a compulsion to weigh in on the debate, as both a performer of early music and a longtime shapenote singer.

First of all, this is Anonymous 4, and these women are much to polished and professional to do anything less than magnificent. That being said, this is Anonymous 4, and they worked for years on perfecting their sound and in particular the blend of their four voices. They cannot be expected to sound like four random singers at a Sacred Harp convention, where anyone and everyone is welcome. Those who have said that this sacred music is for everyone are right: it is for everyone, back porch singers and trained professional alike. Anonymous 4 just happens to fall into the latter group. To say that this music only belongs to "common folk" (if you define that as people of little or no vocal training) is just ludicrous. That being said, A4 does have fun with the music. They know they're not singing chants and motets, so they alter the style of their singing, but within the boundaries of how their voices blend best. So are their scoops and slides too much or too little? That's a call that each individual listener will have to make. (Though I've heard back country shapenote singers do a lot more embellishment than what these ladies do!)

Second, in response to the critiques about harmony: that's exactly what shapenote singing is. What's more, this music was traditionally written with the melody in the tenor, not the soprano (which is what we are more used to). So yes, the melody is going to get buried until your ears get used to hearing the melody in the middle of the vocal parts rather than on top. That's not getting carried away with harmonic acrobatics: that's singing the music as it was written.

Finally, as to my rating, I base the 5 stars on how well this ensemble accomplished what they set out to do: supremely well, as always. Is it a CD I listen to everyday? Honestly I don't often listen to any of the A4 CDs I have, simply because I'm not often in the mood for chant! (I will say that I listen to American Angels more than any other A4 CD I own.) But when I do want this kind of music, there's nobody better!"