Northern Harmony Choir,
Under the Labrador Sky
(self-produced, 1999)

Under the Labrador Sky is a compilation of songs about Labrador commissioned and performed by the Norther Harmony Choir (apart from "Tishialuk Girls"). The songs recall the joys and trials of life in Labrador, particularly in its past, and there is a charming old-fashioned feel about the CD. The music is soothing and pleasant with interesting and well-performed harmonies.

Unfortunately, the lyrics to the songs are not included in the liner notes, which are skimpy and unclear at best. This is especially unfortunate because at times, the words to the songs are indistinguishable in the harmonies. Such is the case with the first track, "Fishermen and Trappers," which has an intriguing melody -- but it's a bit frustrating to listen to as the listener gets hung up on deciphering the lyrics. Also, be aware that the song repeats on track 2; according to the Maple Folk website, this was an editing error and unintentional.

"Woman of Labrador" follows, sung primarily by women and accompanied with a rippling flute; here the words are clear, and the simple lyrics evoke the image of a trapper's wife raising children and taking comfort in the northern lights while her husband is away. "Northern Lights of Labrador" is a sweet swinging song about a traveler who is drawn back to Labrador, and "Butter and Snow" is a jazzy bluesy number, very appealing but again, hard to hear clearly except for the line "It all melts away like butter and snow" -- which in itself captures the imagination.

Other highlights include "Amen Allelu," an Innu spiritual, and "Grand River," which describes the joys of the river, with a cautionary yet lyrical chorus as grand as the river it describes: "Oh the river is sweet but the river is cruel / And the person who tempts it is only a fool." "Me Name is Walter Kippenhuck" describes the changes over the years as seen through the eyes of a historical figure watching the changes coming in, and "Sons of Labrador" is a robust hymn to the early immigrants to Labrador.

"Tishialuk Girls" is a lively appealing song, but again, the lyrics are difficult to understand. According to the liner notes, it is performed by Northern Mosaic, but the notes do not identify what Northern Mosaic is (although the Maple Folk website identifies it as an a cappella group of eight women from the choir). The final song, "This is My Home," is rich and melodious and provides a perfect conclusion to the CD.

With either a cappella renditions or sparse accompaniment of piano, flute and guitar, Northern Harmony Choir has a rich full sound, and in spite of the difficulties mentioned above, the music is beautifully performed with polished cohesive harmonies. If you appreciate choral folk-style music, take a sojourn Under the Labrador Sky.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]