The Boston Camerata did much to introduce the early music movement to American audiences, and the group has a large recording catalog. Under new director Anne Azéma, its recordings have become sparser, but if their new recordings are going to be as well thought out as Free America!, then the waits will be worth it. What Azéma and the Camerata offer here is nothing less than a rethinking of the early American choral and vocal repertory, which up to now has not had performances that placed the music in convincing contexts and brought it to life. It may seem ironic that it has taken a French director to make this happen, but of course, the playbook from which Azéma is working is that of Jordi Savall in his deep historical-musical panoramas. The program, as Savall often does, is evenly divided into related sections: "All Unite!," "Gone for a Soldier," "Repentance," "The Rich Man," and "A Land of Freedom." All present music is connected to the American Revolution and the ideas and ideals of the young republic. There's quite an unexpected variety, not only William Billings, Daniel Read, and Andrew Law, but Native American Thomas Commuck, African American spirituals, and a Shaker composer, Sister Patsy Williamson. You might sample her contribution, or one of the other Shaker songs on the album, for these are especially distinctive; they aren't recorded terribly often, and the performances and presentation here resituate them from odd subculture to a set of ideas absolutely characteristic of the new nation. The African American pieces perhaps need more authentic performances, but 19th century New Englanders might easily have sung these melodies out of songbooks as is done here. Free America! offers the Boston Camerata's usual high standards in performance, along with a whole new look at the early American repertory.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim