Various Artists

Take Me to the Water: Immersion Baptism in Vintage Music and Photography 1890-1950

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As is par for the course for the Dust-to-Digital label, the exquisite packaging of Take Me to the Water: Immersion Baptism in Vintage Music and Photography 1890-1950 ensures that it will reach a wider and hipper audience than most releases of such frankly esoteric American roots music. There's a full 76-minute CD of music here, but it's just part of the deal, encased as it is in a handsome 96-page hardback book containing 75 sepia reproductions of photos of baptisms in the U.S. between 1890 and 1950, along with essays on the pictures and detailed annotation on the tracks. The primary topic of this review is the CD, and it is interesting enough in its own right, containing 25 songs and sermons from 1924-1940. While there's a good amount of sermonizing to be heard, it's not a primarily spoken word disc, the sermons often sharing space with musical performances, and quite a few of the tracks presenting only music. The common thread is that all of the cuts relate to baptism in some form, sometimes quite head-on, though sometimes the relationship between the words and immersion baptism is more indirect. As you'd expect, gospel and spiritual music is prominent in many of the selections, whether the performers are white or African-American. But while much of this is fairly raw even for recordings of this vintage (complete with a good amount of unavoidable surface noise on many of the tracks), it's not totally unapproachable for less specialized listeners. There are actually a few big names from early country music here, like J.E. Mainer's Mountaineers (whose "Goin' Down to the River of Jordan" is a highlight), Ernest Stoneman, and the Carter Family, and a few versions of one song in particular ("Wade in the Water") that will be pretty familiar to many pop and folk fans. The arrangements are fairly varied, too, whether they're in the Appalachian folk, rural blues, Western swing (on Bill Boyd & His Cowboy Ramblers' "Sister Lucy Lee"), or choral a cappella veins. That said, this is pretty pious stuff even by the standards of devout vintage Americana, and those without a taste for faith-based roots music may find this of more academic value than something to hear for entertainment or artistic inspiration.

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