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American Angels: Songs of Hope, Redemption and Glory

Anonymous 4

Recorded May 12-15, 2003 at Skywalker Sound, Marin County, California DDD

HARMONIA MUNDI USA HMU907326 [60:34]


George ATKIN and William MOORE Holy Manna [2:15]
Benjamin BEDDOME and E.J. KING Abbeville [2:27]
Stith MEAD and James CHRISTOPHER Wondrous Love [2:35]
W.W. WALFORD and William Batchelder BRADBURYSweet Hour of Prayer [3:13]
John NEWTON and R.F.M. MANN Jewett [3:11]
Isaac WATTS and Freeman LEWIS, arr. Jacqueline HORNER Dunlap’s Creek [2:16]
John NEWTON, Benjamin SHAW and Charles H. SPILMAN New Britain [3:05]
John LELAND and B.F. WHITE The Morning Trumpet [3:22]
Isaac WATTS and Freeman LEWIS Resignation [3:10]
Isaac WATTS and Timothy SWAN Poland [2:54]
BEVER, arr. John M. DYE Wayfaring Stranger [2:47]
S. Fillmore BENNETT and Joseph P. WEBSTER, arr. Johanna Maria ROSE Sweet By and By [2:51]
Isaac WATTS and J.P. STORM Blooming Vale [2:35]
Isaac WATTS and Ananias DAVISSON Idumea [3:36]
Samuel STENNETT and William WALKER Sweet Prospect [3:03]
Robert LOWRY Shall We Gather at the River [4:52]
Isaac WATTS and Justin MORGAN Amanda [2:17]
F.R. WARREN and William WALKER, arr. Marsha GENENSKY and Johanna Maria ROSE Invitation [2:32]
John BLAIN, arr. William WALKER Parting Hand [2:56]
Jefferson HASKELL and William Batchelder BRADBURY Angel Band [3:09]

After seventeen years of exploring the early musical traditions of Europe, Anonymous 4 decided to look at the folk tradition of their home country, exploring the traditional Anglo-American religious music. On their most recent release, American Angels, they drew upon the songbooks of eighteenth century New England and nineteenth century Southern shape-note hymnals selecting much of the best and most-beloved traditional music America has to offer. Indeed, many of the arrangements selected come from books that have been in continuous use for nearly the entire life of the country. The result is quite simply a work of breathtaking beauty.

As Anonymous 4 is approaching the end of their active performing life, with the 2003-2004 season signaling the planned end of this noted group, it does seem fitting that they would delve into their native land’s music for the final planned release. The music comprises generally 4-part vocal arrangements with the quaint feel of traditional folk music. This is exactly as it should be. Anonymous 4 has always been at its best when exploring the music of a bygone era without enhancement, selecting the true gems and enlightening the audience with their rediscovered treasures.

Much of this music was recently reintroduced into the secular consciousness through the movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou?", and the arrangements here are very similar to the material The Stanley Brothers and the group consisting of Emmylou Harris, Allison Krauss, and Gillian Welch performed. Anonymous 4 does them one better here however as they seek aim to provide more than the rural music in its original form. They seek to present the music in its fully mature form, lending their pristine, angelic voices to the arrangements designed to bring the singers and listeners closer to God.

When music is put through the crucible of generations of listeners, the chaff is soon thrown out, and this time-tested music truly represents the cream of Anglo-American folk literature. Paired with the cream of choral recording groups, it is no wonder that this album is as marvelous as it is. When Anonymous 4 does these songs, one can imagine the choirs of cherubim and seraphim stopping to listen; indeed one wonders if the angels might be taking notes on how to improve their own performances for the Almighty.

It is truly a sad thing to note the passing of Anonymous 4; they will be missed. However, this album does a superb job of saying farewell, as well as completing a chapter in their lives. One hopes that there will be a reunion for this group of women in the future, and that this is not truly the end. However, if it is, their legacy of returning the musical legacy back to the modern listener is done great tribute with this album. This must be considered an essential recording from Anonymous 4, and is simply one of the albums which anyone who loves vocal music should own.

Patrick Gary



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