This is among a group of valedictory discs from Minnesota's Dale Warland Singers, now disbanded after a distinguished 40-year career. In terms of the basic materials of the music included, it looks back to a type of repertory that many choirs cultivated back when this fine small chorus began its work, but that is not so common now: Harvest Home is a collection of musical Americana. Every American high school choir office used to have a sheaf of Shaker hymns, some choral arrangements, and many classic arrangements of African-American spirituals, along with new, lightly chromatic pieces, idiomatically written for an ordinary choir, that evoked sunny American physical and spiritual landscapes. Members of the choirs that sang this music could look to the Dale Warland Singers to see how beautifully this music might be done. Now there are fewer high school choirs, and professional choirs have a different relationship with the communities that support them.
All of which is to say that Harvest Home, a cappella except for a few guitar accompaniments, makes for a nice retrospective on some very good old days. And it's the best kind of retrospective, one that deepens the material being reinspected. The singers draw on arrangements made for the choir over the last decade or so; they are quite dense in terms of harmonic elaboration without losing the sense of simplicity that a song like Get Along, Cindy (termed a folk song but actually a pure species of minstrel comedy) should have. When it comes to the African-American spirituals included, the restraint of these Minnesotan singers will bring a half-dozen Garrison Keillor routines to mind. And that too is as it should be. Fans of the Dale Warland Singers probably already have this disc, but those interested in Americana in general should also acquire it. The small Gothic label deserves special mention for excellent sound; without doing anything really high-tech, it manages to immerse the listener deeply in the timbres of the individual sections of the chorus. Levels are very low, and the disc isn't a good choice for auto listening. By the same token, those who value choral music for its contemplative qualities will be rewarded.