Cleveland, Ohio, Baroque ensemble Apollo's Fire has a freshness perhaps born of its isolation from the major currents of historical performance, and with its Come to the River album of early American music in 2010 it even achieved a measure of commercial success. Sugarloaf Mountain, they point out, is not a sequel to the earlier release but might be termed a prequel: the material predates the music on Come to the River, investigating American music's Scots and Irish roots. It is very easy for classical groups to become irredeemably cutesy when performing folk material, but that does not occur here. There are three reasons for this. First is that the Baroque instrumental ensemble is a closer cousin to Celtic music than most other classical groups are, and in fact a London audience of the 18th century might well have heard these tunes in something like the arrangements offered here by director and harpsichordist Jeannette Sorrell. Second, Sorrell, who came of age as a musician partly in the rural South, has a way with this music, and she gets the right straightforward tone out of her vocalists and musicians. Finally, Sorrell assembles her traditional materials into the right kind of loose sequence: neither an assortment of unconnected tunes nor an imposed narrative. Instead, she divides the program into categories: after a prologue, "The Mountains of Rhum," come sections entitled "Crossing to the New World," "Dark Mountain Home," "Cornshuck Party," "Love & Loss," "Glory on the Mountain" (a pair of sacred songs), and "Appalachian Home." The overall effect applies song to experiences Irish and Scottish immigrants to Appalachia might indeed have had, without forcing them into an artificial story. The effect is entirely compelling, by turns funny, tragic, and even grisly. About the only drawback is the unidiomatic church sound. This release should match the classical top-ten chart performance of its predecessor, and continue to gain international attention for this forward-thinking group.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim