The results of musicologist Alan Lomax's recording odyssey through the Caribbean in 1962 largely went unheard with the exception of scholarly research until a huge program of Rounder CD releases began circa 2000. This entry in the series presents music from various wakes and prayer meetings on the tiny island of Carriacou, located slightly north of the larger Grenada. Americans might remember the latter island as a spot where former president Ronald Reagan liked to practice target shooting in the '80s. Listeners who balk at wading through the catalog-sized booklet that accompanies this CD may indeed wonder if some of the deceased being paid tribute to in these songs were victims of the American invasion, in which the number of civilian casualties was never accurately reported. Such an assumption is the type of poppycock that good liner notes will clear up in instant. First of all, Lomax taped all this music decades before Grenada's unlucky experiment with Marxism. More important, these songs are for ancestors of generations past, folks known as "the old ones" whose existence predates Reagan's early movie career, not to mention his presence as neighborhood bully.
A series of pleasant if not transcendent vocal performances begins the program. Things really start jumping on the 12th track, a performance of drumming entitled "Cromanti" that is the kind of stuff that should send the average drum-circle participant back home to fiddle with his nose ring. A duo of Sugar Adams on cot drums and Caddy Lazarus John on boula drums are responsible for this and several subsequent tracks, all fantastic. Vocalists eventually begin singing over the drumming; on some of these performances one of the drums has the crisp sound of a tightly tuned parade snare. The overlapping of choral verses and rhythmic patterns, sometimes coordinated, sometimes circling each other like competing hawks, will be familiar to fans of African music. "Jean, Ay, Jean, Kay-Mwen Boule," a performance of a French hymn by Newton Joseph and a "chorus" of unidentified men, inhabits a territory somewhere between the avant-garde choral music of Karlheinz Stockhausen and the sounds of a tavern letting out. It is truly the strangest-sounding track in this particular collection, the one world-music disc jockeys will want to play to get their audience's attention. The CD concludes with an interview, supposedly conducted at five in the morning following a prayer feast, in which resident May Fortune describes many aspects of the island's history and folklore.