Birdsongs of the Mesozoic

Extreme Spirituals: Birdsongs of the Mesozoic with Oral Moses

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It says something about Birdsongs of the Mesozoic that even on an album like this one, which departs about as radically as one could possibly imagine from their usual repertoire, you can tell immediately that it's a Birdsongs of the Mesozoic album within the first eight bars of the first track. There's something about that staccato piano sound, or about the unison guitar-and-synth passages -- something that links very clearly this dramatically different album to its predecessors of the early '80s. What makes it so different is that it's a gospel album, one that pairs the rich, chesty baritone voice of Oral Moses and his repertoire of traditional hymns and spirituals with the adventurous and sometimes experimental arrangements of Birdsongs of the Mesozoic. Given the band's long-held reputation as spiky avant-gardists, this doesn't seem like a promising collaboration, and indeed they seem to have decided early on that they weren't going to compromise on the denseness and complexity of their arrangements. What's surprising is how powerfully well the combination ends up working. Moses' voice turns out to be more than strong enough to stand up to the Birdsongs' sharp electric attack, and on tracks like "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho" (with its charmingly anachronistic drum-machine sound and subtle hints of Hebrew melody) and "A Little More Faith in Jesus" (which features an instrumental bridge built out of interlocking minimalist parts), both elements seem to be firing each other up to greater heights of musical intensity. On the relatively soft and gentle "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" and a dark, intense arrangement of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," each party seems to have led the other to think in new ways about the source material. The result is an album rich with meaning and musical power.

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