Anonymous 4, American Angels: Songs of Hope, Redemption & Glory

Steve Holtje

By Steve Holtje

on 11.16.12 in Reviews
Going back to their cultural roots

After a decade of recording Medieval European music with a few tangents for new works by contemporary composers, this quartet of American singers surprised us in 2003 with a disc of 19th-century (one dates back to the 18th century) American folk hymns, gospel songs, psalms, camp revival songs and even one fugue. That’s a pretty big change, but going back to their cultural roots nonetheless fits their vocal style pretty well; their clear, pure voices get to indulge in a little vibrato now and then, and their impeccable intonation and pronunciation provide Platonically ideal readings of songs more often heard in rougher amateur renditions. There are many familiar favorites here – “Wondrous Love,” “Wayfaring Stranger,” “Sweet By and By,” “Shall We Gather at the River,” even two versions of “Amazing Grace,” one of which is very different rhythmically. The members’ extensive research into old sources also brings refreshingly unfamiliar and piquant harmonizations in some cases, and brings more obscure songs to a new audience.