Various Artists

I Belong to This Band: Eighty-Five Years of Sacred Harp Recordings

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As a companion CD to the film Awake, My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp, I Belong to This Band: Eighty-Five Years of Sacred Harp Recordings collects 30 performances in the Sacred Harp style, recorded as early as 1922 and as recently as 2006. As explained in the liner notes, Sacred Harp singing -- a form of Southern gospel music that's rather obscure to much of the general population -- "is characterized by mass participation, full-voiced singing, lack of instrumental accompaniment, and rotation of song leaders." Most of the material performed dates from before the middle of the 19th century, which helps give even the recent recordings in the genre a haunted, out-of-time feeling, and often the beginning sections are sung with the syllables "fa," "sol," "la," and "mi." Not that it matters much, but it's not the most chronologically balanced overview, with no recordings at all drawn from between the years 1960 and 2005, though a good 13 of them were done at the Henagar-Union Sacred Harp Convention in July 2006. In truth, there's not much difference between the 2006 cuts and the older ones, except that they were recorded more clearly, such is the agelessness of the form. About the only liberties taken with Sacred Harp conventions are heard on the circa-1960 recording of "New Morning Sun" by S. Whit Denson, who multi-tracked his voice so that he could sing all four parts, also backing himself on piano. Throughout the CD, the tone is universally sober, devout, moving, and impressive in its harmonic intricacy. It could, in fact, be too much piety at once for those not enamored of the genre. But as ever, Dust-to-Digital does a good job in making a form of American folk music that has become archaic in popular culture as accessible as it can be to a wider audience, with expert audio transfers, artwork, and liner notes.

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