Word of Mouth Chorus

Rivers of Delight (American Folk Hymns from the Sacred Harp Tradition)

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The shape-note hymns, worship anthems, and "fuguing tunes" that emerged from 18th century New England (and would eventually spread through the Southeast and Central states as well) together constitute one of the most instantly recognizable and most distinctively American musical sounds this country has ever produced. Like the people who wrote and sang it together, this music draws deeply from European traditions and yet is shaped by the rough exigencies of frontier life; at its best it is the musical equivalent of a cathedral built out of hand-hewn logs. The Word of Mouth Chorus perform this repertoire in a manner that is perhaps just a bit mannered; in deference to the communal and participatory nature of of this music, there is a self-conscious effort not to make it sound too pretty, and at times, such as on J.P. Reese's potentially gorgeous composition "Eternal Day," the group's harshly nasal delivery and relentless forte end up obscuring what the singers presumably meant to reveal. But the album's finest moments, which include a heartbreakingly perfect rendition of "Evening Shade" and a quiet performance of the starkly yearning "White" by Elder Edmund Dumas, will make the least-pious listener stop and catch his breath. North America has produced much music over the past 300 years; little of it has proven as enduringly powerful as this.

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