The Alan Lomax Collection
I admit I have been avoiding this CD because gospel and spiritual music are not my particular cup of tea. But on this early autumn night, on the eve of a new millennium, I find myself listening to field recordings made in the summer of 1959 and am drawn in.
Brethren, We Meet Again opens with Sardinia, sung by the Alabama Sacred Harp Singers. This is the tune that discouraged me throughout the summer from writing this review, because simply stated, I can't stand sacred harp music - it grates on my nerves (some draw their line in the musical sand at rap, or country, or heavy metal - my personal line is at the sacred harp notch). Well, slap my hand and call me rude, like any record label person, I listened to the first cut and retired for the summer. To my embarrassed surprise, this CD is so much more than my narrow vision imagined. It ain't all sacred harp. It's blues and gospel, which were, in fact, the roots of spiritual music as sung in the American South in Nineteen fifty-nine.
Still sitting uncomfortably in my chair, I was finally relieved when the amazing Hobart Smith kicked off a song called See That My Grave Is Kept Clean, which I grew up knowing as One Kind Favor.
My Lord Keeps A Record is a delightful bluegrass hymn with plunky banjo riffs and a jangly guitar supporting wide-open harmonies. "Joyful" is a word that comes to mind; another is "perfect" for the genre (I was really ashamed of myself when this song cued up).
The next song put the skin back on me - Almeda Riddle singing an absolutely haunting rendition of I Am A Poor Wayfaring Stranger. It is a cappella. It needs nothing more. Unfortunately this masterpiece is immediately followed by a snorting fire-and-brimstone preacher underscoring the first track. Mercifully, the next piece is a song called "Jim and Me" by Hobart Smith, Texas Gladden, and Preston Smith.
All in all, this has been a difficult review because among the stuff I didn't like are songs I liked very much. This CD is not for the faint of heart, but for all of you Alan Lomax fans, I'd say "go for it."
Edited by Roberta B. Schwartz