Review by: David Vernier

Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

There’s nothing like success, and heaven knows Anonymous 4 has seen its share over the years. One of the early music-specialist group’s biggest hits was 2003’s American Angels (type Q7306 in Search Reviews), a surprising foray into sacred music of early America–hymns, shape-note tunes, and gospel songs from the 18th and 19th centuries. As is Anonymous 4’s practice, the singers drew their material largely from original sources, this time from collections such as The Southern Harmony and The Sacred Harp–a diversion from the medieval manuscripts they’ve tapped for most of their recordings.

This new release, following a similar repertoire path, is loosely based on a theme of a lost girl, forsaken in love, who “looks to the life beyond in spiritual songs of hope, happiness, and glory”. Employing both published settings and the performers’ own arrangements, the quartet and its instrumental partners bring new life and vibrant power to beloved old hymns, ballads, and revival songs such as Wayfaring Stranger (both instrumental and vocal versions), Where we’ll never grow old, Mercy-seat, and Shall we gather at the river–here sung to the tune Palmetto (the group sings the more familiar version on American Angels).

Although both American Angels and Gloryland were recorded at the same favored venue–Skywalker Sound–this latest disc comes across a bit edgier than the first, the voices more forward and more freely ornamenting lines and bending pitches. As one who knows many of the tunes on this program from camps, revival services, and Bible conferences in my younger days, I can say that there’s a certain authenticity in the singing–the inflection, the harmony, the rhythmic flow–that sucessfully manages the fine line between sincerity and parody. The solo voices are always strong, true, and–most importantly–expressive of the texts, and together the ensemble makes a sound at once solid and uplifting, worthy of the music’s power and purpose.

The instruments for the most part are a very fine addition–and you couldn’t ask for more expert or compelling artists than Darol Anger and Mike Marshall. Their accompaniments–they join one or more singers on more than half of the tracks–provide a tasteful folk/country/roots aspect to the songs that works quite effectively, although I couldn’t help but feel that their contribution to the last track, exuberant and stylish as it is, sounded more country/pop than gospel.

Highlights include the lively a cappella opening track, the revival song “I’m on my journey home”, with its penetrating open harmonies, begun with the singers’ attention-getting sol-fa intonation. Susan Hellauer offers a perfectly plaintive Wagoner’s Lad and the quartet delivers a sweetly prayerful Pleading Saviour and a wonderfully swinging rendition of the revival tune Merrick, sung to the words “Saviour, visit Thy plantation”.

Listeners who thought Anonymous 4 had retired and disbanded will be delighted with this return engagement–which also involves a “Gloryland Tour”, already underway and continuing into May, 2007. And as for these four amazing singers, they’d better be careful; they may find themselves in demand for a whole new career and new incarnation as a gospel, folk-hymn, revival quartet. The “Righteous Sisters” anyone? [8/19/2006]

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Album Title: GLORYLAND

Folksongs, Spirituals, Gospel hymns of Hope & Glory -

  • Darol Anger (violins, mandolins)
    Mike Marshall (guitar, mandolin, mandocello)
  • Anonymous 4

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