Various Artists - Sacred Voices: An A Cappella Gospel Collection

Sacred Voices:
An A Cappella Gospel Collection

Various Artists

SUG CD 1247

Sugar Hill Records
PO Box 55300
Durham, NC 27707-5300

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Marie Hardesty

If you equate bluegrass music with the sounds of a hard driving banjo, rhythm guitar, chopping mandolin or smooth sounding fiddle, then you are in for a refreshing new view of traditional a cappella gospel music.

During the era of little country churches and back porch singing, music was sung by family members and friends as a way of passing time and passing down their heritage. Unaccompanied singing, or a cappella as we call it today, was the standard way of singing. At a later time instruments were added to enhance the overall sound. However, in my opinion, you can't improve on something as pure and simple as a solo voice singing What A. Friend We Have In Jesus. Just give a listen to Doc Watson as he gives us "sight" into the oldest selection on the CD.

After giving this a lot of playing time, I have a deeper understanding of a cappella singing. No worrying about if all the instruments are in tune, only are our voices blending well and are we giving this song enough soul for the listener to enjoy so they will give it more than one time around on the CD player rather than using the disc as a frisbee.

As you listen to the rest of the selections, remember that the first impression is not always the lasting one. Give this CD a try and don't be surprised if it gets more play time than shelf time.

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver use a cappella singing as a main ingredient in their sound which was learned by Lawson from listening to many bands including his father's. They give us two traditional cuts Climbing Up the Mountain and That New Jerusalem.

The Nashville Bluegrass Band appear several times on this CD. Father I Stretch My Hand To Thee featuring the lead vocal of Alan O'Bryant is done, for the most part, as a solo but gets good support from the rest of the group.

Also teaming up with The Nashville Bluegrass Band are the voices of the Fairfield Four. Their version of the old traditional Roll Jordan Roll will remind you of a black spiritual as sung in a little country church in the South.

Peter Rowan joins The Nashville Bluegrass Band and puts to Music the story of how Jesus Made The Wine as told from the Book of John.

The contemporary styling of Linda & Robin Williams are a fine addition as they contribute He's Coming Again So Soon and Don't You Want To Go To Heaven.

There are no exceptions to the words "family harmony" as you listen to the Rowan Brothers join together with Peter and sing the haunting traditional tune Love Pilgrim.

Don Rigsby, with the lead voice of Ralph Stanley, and a host of supporting voices, sing Vision Of A Golden Crown. If you are familiar with original bluegrass styles, you will recognize this as traditional Stanley Brothers singing.

My Heavenly Home by Front Range gives the stately cadence prevalent to 16th Century English motets.

The up beat tempo of Feel Like My Time Ain't Long by The Country Gentlemen will have you clapping along with this high voltage rendition.

Brother and sister duo, Tim & Mollie O'Brien, give a calypso beat to the black spiritual, Shut De Do. Mollie and Tim do a back and forth arrangement for added effect.
Two greats, Ricky Skaggs and Tony Rice, team up for a World War 1 era tune. They do a superb job on Talk About Suffering.

The live recording of Walk In Jerusalem by the New Grass Revival, is a high energy old folk spiritual. This hand clapping old tune should lift your spirits each and every time you give it a listen.

As you can see, there are several styles of tunes on one CD. All gospel and all good. If you have some of these songs with the full band sound, with instruments, you might want to compare these two styles or just go for the a cappella sound, depending on how you are feeling that day.

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2001, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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