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Recordings

Gloryland
20 May 2007

Anonymous 4: Gloryland

The quality packaging of Anonymous 4’s latest recording indicates the group’s importance to their label, Harmonia Mundi.

Gloryland

Anonymous 4 with Darol Anger, Mike Marshall

Harmonia Mundi HMU 807400 [SACD]

$19.99  Click to buy

No tacky, fragile jewel-case for these ladies. The CD rests snugly in an unbreakable clear-plastic casing, and a 62-page booklet is attached to the inside cover. Attractive graphic design combines warm red, yellow, and orange in a quilt-like design on the front, and good ol’ red, white and blue on the back. Handsome, in a home-spun way.

Gloryland is a “pilgrimage,” according to the back blurb, a collection of religious-themed pieces of “love and loss, hope and redemption.” The four members — Marsha Genensky, Susan Hellauer, Jacqueline Horner, Johanna Maria Rosa — blend their voices with such smoothness that individual timbres disappear into a stream of tart, vibrato-free tone. From first track to last, the enunciation is immaculate, the rhythm spot-on. There is no emotion-laden interpretation; as much as possible, the simple melodic lines and heartfelt words speak for themselves.

On some tracks, two instrumentalists join the women. Darol Auger plays violin and mandolin and Mike Marshall plays guitar, mandolin, and mandocello. The men also perform on some instrumental tracks, including two of three versions of “Wayfaring Stranger.” Their contributions save the recording from any danger of monotony.

On one level, Gloryland impresses as a beautifully performed set of songs that draw one back to a lost era of direct, folk-based musical spirituality. Beyond the respect due to the skills of the artists, after a while the performances begin to feel dry, almost too perfect. Perhaps some occasional moments of unrestrained emotion, of passion-induced frailty, would more fully complete the concept of bringing these hymns and ballads to life. Your reviewer began to wonder if this wasn’t primitive American music performed with too carefully-studied sophistication.

Put it this way — Gloryland would be right at home in front of the register at Starbucks. It would make for pleasurable listening while sipping a Vanilla Bean Frappucino.

Chris Mullins

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