American bass, lutenist, and conductor Joel Frederiksen was a member of the Waverly Consort and the Boston Camerata before settling in Munich and founding Ensemble Phoenix Munich in 2003. The ensemble has concentrated on Renaissance and Baroque European repertoire, but for this album it turns to American music from the period between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. The music performed here includes songs from the wars, Shaker spirituals, anthems by William Billings, songs from the shape note tradition, and hymns from revival meetings. Most are a cappella vocal or choral pieces but there are several instrumental works and accompanied songs. The performances by the eight-member ensemble are outstanding. The vocalists, soprano Lydia Brotherton, mezzo-soprano Deborah Rentz-Moore, tenor Timothy Leigh Evans, and bass Joel Frederiksen, have delightfully fresh and unmannered voices -- natural but disciplined -- and they sing with great spirit and warmth. The accompanying instruments -- flute, strings, guitar, and drums -- are deployed with appropriate directness. The music for the most part is simple, and they sing and play it with great simplicity. The album should be of strong interest to anyone who wants to understand what musical life was like in the early years of the Republic, and anyone who enjoys first-rate folk performances. Harmonia Mundi's sound is clean, clear, and realistic.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Eddins