The Sojourners,
The Sojourners
(Black Hen, 2009)

Though Black Hen is a Canadian label, the three Sojourners are Americans who grew up in Illinois, Texas and Louisiana, all of them tutored in the musical traditions of the black church. That music has infused a whole lot of secular genres, most apparently doo wop, r&b, soul and pop, and that's not even to mention white Southern gospel. At the same time, as if in constant feedback loop, the secular genres have turned around also to shape the sacred ones.

This superb album, produced by roots maestro Steve Dawson, divides its 11 cuts between modern and traditional approaches without compromising the organic unity of the music. The approach is broad enough to encompass the Motown-sounding opener (the traditional spiritual "Nobody Can Turn Me Around" reworked) and a rock anthem (Los Lobos' "The Neighborhood") to relatively unadorned -- and all the more effective for it -- readings of folk-based religious songs such as "Death Don't Have No Mercy" and "Brother Moses Smote the Water." Throughout, the arrangements remain spare and clean enough to keep the voices and the harmonies up front, where they belong.

Though this is only their second album, the Sojourners -- Will Sanders, Ron Small and Marcus Mosely (all in their later middle age, judging from the cover photograph) -- bring three lifetimes' worth of singing experience to the group. Combine their professionalism with their unfailing good taste in material along with Dawson's sympathetic producer's hand, and you have balm for ears and soul.

review by
Jerome Clark

27 March 2010

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