Various Artists

The Angels Are Singing: A Women's Bluegrass Gospel Collection

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One of the primary distinguishing features of bluegrass music has always been the male voice -- the fierce and otherworldly falsetto of Bill Monroe was as important to the establishment of bluegrass as a musical genre as were his hard-driving mandolin and the fiery banjo picking of Earl Scruggs. But although women have traditionally been regarded as peripheral in the history of bluegrass music, there are many who have made significant contributions, and they have done so throughout the music's history. From the rough-hewn mountain laments of Hazel Dickens to the soulful smoothness of Alison Krauss, the distinctive sounds of women bluegrass singers have added a distinctive dimension to the music's development. This collection of bluegrass gospel songs features women singing in a wide variety of bluegrass styles: the Stevens Sisters contribute the dark and bluesy "In My Time of Dying," Claire Lynch gets funky on a modern gospel composition called "Paul and Peter Walked," and Ola Belle Reed delivers a chilling a cappella rendition of "Six Feet of Earth Makes Us All One Size." Rhonda Vincent and Kathy Kallick both perform driving and rootsy numbers, while the Cox Family's contribution is, as usual for them, both gorgeous and slightly strange. Strict traditionalists might be put off by a few of these selections (the clarinet intro on "The Wayfaring Stranger" is especially startling), but everything here is very much worth hearing.

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