With this recording, the members of Anonymous 4 celebrate our long journey together. We are honored to be able to share this latest voyage with our new friends, Darol Anger and Mike Marshall, whose travels together began even longer ago than ours did.
The tunes on Gloryland are filled with imagery of the journey, of birds and flying, of reaching and crossing over the Jordan River. Their narrators equate the soul with Noah’s weary dove, who soars the earth seeking a resting place; they wish for wings, to be a tiny swallow, to fly to the next world on eagles’ wings; or they yearn to gather with loved ones at the river and to find green pastures beyond the banks of that shining shore.
Most of these songs have themselves been traveling for a very long time, in a wonderful intertwining of oral and written traditions that have flourished for many generations. Which of them were newly composed and which were taken down from someone’s singing or playing and then arranged cannot always be determined, but songs like Ecstasy and Saint’s Delight sound equally at home whether sung in their shape-note settings or played on the fiddle, guitar, and mandolin.
The elements of Anglo-American song take part in an endless game of mix and match: dance airs are set to sacred words; worldly and spiritual texts share the same musical notes; and hymns that we associate with certain much-loved tunes can also be sung to other melodies. The tune most commonly known as Wayfaring Stranger occurs several times: it appears first with the religious ballad text, “I am a poor wayfaring stranger,” again in the lyric folk song You Fair and Pretty Ladies, in the haunting folk hymn Parting Friends, and finally in a bluesy instrumental rendition.
Meanwhile, gospel song composer Robert Lowry’s familiar text “Shall We Gather At The River?” (which we sang to Lowry’s famous gospel tune Shall We Gather at the River, on American Angels) has migrated to the Southern hymn tune Palmetto; and John Newton’s poem “Savior, Visit Thy Plantation” has attached itself to two different tunes: Return Again and Merrick. To further complicate matters in the most wonderful way, the melody of Return Again is a variant of the American Angels tune Invitation.
Darol Anger – Violin, Baritone Violin, Octave Mandolin, Mandolin
Mike Marshall – Guitar, Mandolin, Mandocello
Total time: 01:04:42
Acuff, Bever, Carter, Dean, Hall, Houser, Lancaster, Leavitt, Leland, Lowry, Mead, Moore, Muhlenberg, Nelson, Newton, Price, Root, Stowell, Traditional, Unknown, Unkown, Vanhoose, Walker, Watts, Williams
|Original Recording Format|
Robina G. Young, (Marsha Genensky – assistant producer)
Lucasfilm California USA
|Recording Type & Bit Rate||
|Release Date||June 15, 2014|
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, 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 album 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 successfully 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 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 work 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 Savior and a wonderfully swinging rendition of the revival tune Merrick, sung to the words “Savior, 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?
This album by the all-female medieval vocal ensemble Anonymous 4 resembles one of its earlier releases, American Angels. Both focus on American music, and specifically include the tradition known as shape-note hymnody — it was (and is) printed with note heads in different shapes associated with solmization (or, in the parlance of its practitioners, “fasola”) syllables.
Gloryland delves a bit more into later forms of white gospel music and includes more secular folk songs associated with the launch of a new folk duo by two of the ensemble’s members. But the biggest difference between the two releases is that Gloryland features instrumental contributions by progressive bluegrass musicians Darol Anger and Mike Marshall. They accompany the singers and perform interludes and a few whole pieces by themselves on fiddle and mandolin, also using such novelties as a baritone violin and mandocello.
It seems safe to say that if you like Anonymous 4, and especially if you liked American Angels, you’ll find Gloryland fascinating. The harmonies of the group are carefully prepared and truly ethereal, and when applied to the simple but strangely powerful American religious poetry of a hymn-like Mercy-Seat they have a strangely compelling effect. Again, as with American Angels, if you have shape-note singing and the sound of old gospel hymns in your ears, you might find Anonymous 4 a bit too wispy. Shape-note hymns are belted out by large groups at an unaltered high volume, and the various revival hymns of the Great Awakening featured here were even less intimate — they were religious songs sung ecstatically by large, and often racially mixed, groups of people at outdoor gatherings.
The almost monastic sound of Anonymous 4 doesn’t quite fit, and the rather jazzy backing of Anger and Marshall displaces the listener’s attention from the antiphonal energy that a song like Saint’s Delight would have had in its original performances — a simple refrain like “I feel like, I feel like I’m on my journey home” represented one of the first musical meeting places between black and white in America. All this said Anonymous 4’s performances make beautiful sense on their own terms. Translations into English and French are provided (not in parallel text, unfortunately), and European audiences, for whom this wonderful material may be exotic no matter how it’s performed, should be very intrigued.
NativeDSD Senior Reviewer
The ladies of Anonymous 4 have brought us so much beautiful music from the renaissance and before. With this album, they make magic with a whole different era.
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