Sunday, July 6, 2008

Sacred Harp CD Resources

As promised, here are links to CDs containing performances of Sacred Harp / Southern Harmony / Christian Harmony music:

The link above is to An American Christmas by Joel Cohen and the Boston Camerata. (Yes, I will learn how to do that Link Thing properly...but right now, for the sake of just getting this posted, I will go the amateurish route.) OK, An American Christmas is a pot pourri of different styles, and only a few songs are from the Sacred Harp / shape-note tradition. But those few gave my family and me our first exposure to shape-note singing. For this we will be forever grateful. Thank you, Joel Cohen!

The link above is to Rivers of Delight by the Word of Mouth Chorus. This is the Real Deal: songs from the Sacred Harp Songbook, performed in a much more authentic shape-note style. It is still very much a performance, so it's not as raw as genuine (church-based) shape-note singing. But, for many of us, it's about as authentic as we want to get. In my view, it's the perfect compromise between "overly slick" and "utterly raw." Your mileage may vary. :)

The links above are to two Anonymous 4 recordings: American Angels and Gloryland. Both CDs contain a mixture of shape-note songs, revivalist hymns, and other material. Anonymous 4 does not even pretend to be engaging in authentic shape-note singing. These are definitely performances, and the style is highly refined (although the singers do inject a bit of twang into their voices at times). But who cares? They sing like angels. Authenticity, schmenticity, say I.

The link above is to another gem from Joel Cohen and the Boston Camerata: The American Vocalist. The material comes from a 19th-century New England songbook, sort of a Boston cousin to the Sacred Harp and Southern Harmony. Yes, it's very polished and professional, but it's also perfectly lovely. The performance of "Star in the East" (a/k/a "Brightest and Best") is alone worth the purchase price, IMHO.

The link above is to the granddaddy of all authentic Sacred Harp recordings. This is as authentic as it gets, and it's definitely not everyone's cup of tea. But, once you get past the relatively crude sound quality (by today's standards) and the utter lack of polish or professionalism, you may come to appreciate the raw power and beauty of this heartfelt a capella singing. My favorite song on the CD is "Mear," although I think the two versions of "Lover of the Lord" are pretty powerul, too.

OK, enough for now. More posts to come, O vast public! And not all about Sacred Harp either: I've been planning a post on Celtic music for a while now; hope to get to it tomorrow or the next day.


Richard said...

I'd also encourage you give a listen to the Tudor Choir's album of Sacred Harp singing, called prosaically enough "The Shapenote Album". They're a Seattle-based ensemble which specializes in English polyphony but which has also had success in the past doing an annual shapenote concert.

It can be found here.

They also did an album of shapenote Christmas carols called "An American Christman," which oddly is not available on Amazon, but which can be found here.


dianonymous said...

Thanks for the recommendation, Richard! Your blog looks very interesting.

We already have the Tudor Choir's American Christmas CD, actually, but we don't have The Shapenote Album. It's next on the list!

Thanks again!