Sweet Sweet Dreams
(Analog Africa ***1/2)
nolead ends Shadow is the Mighty Shadow, a.k.a. Winston Bailey, the now-elderly calypso singer from Trinidad and Tobago. Sweet Sweet Dreams is a dynamite reissue. The album, originally released (and not warmly received) in 1984, found Shadow moving away from the sociopolitical commentary he was known for and getting personal about suffering from a state of tabanca, or heartsickness. As with the recent reissues of 1980s Nigerian synthesist William Onyeabor on the Luaka Bop label, Sweet Sweet Dreams, which sports a striking purple LP cover, finds Shadow mixing indigenous rhythms with electronic textures on delicious extended jams like "Let's Get Together" and "Moon Walking." What might have come off as jarring in the 1980s sounds remarkably fresh and in the electro-pop now.
- Dan DeLuca
nolead begins Gavin Bryars
nolead ends nolead begins The Fifth Century
nolead ends nolead begins (ECM New Series ***1/2)
nolead ends Experimental English composer, percussionist, and bassist Gavin Bryars has forever confounded audiences as to whether he's a minimalist or maximalist. Does he crave accessibility with majestic themes à la Wagner, intimate quietude à la Satie, testy silence like Cage, or all of the above?
Bryars' newest cantata for regal modern choir and saxophone quartet, The Fifth Century, is based upon Centuries of Meditations, contemplative prose-poems by 17th-century British mystic poet Thomas Traherne. It was commissioned by Philadelphia chamber choir the Crossing and its conductor, Donald Nally, and recorded by ECM's pristine engineers at the Curtis Institute with the neoclassicist Prism Quartet reeds. Rather than a difficult, lengthy elegy, The Fifth Century's a cappella voices and sax counterpoint craft spare, uplifting mini-epics that feel simultaneously medieval and modern.
- A.D. Amorosi
nolead begins Various Artists
nolead ends nolead begins Waxing the Gospel: Mass Evangelism and the Phonograph, 1890-1900
nolead ends nolead begins (Archeophone, ***1/2)
nolead ends Waxing the Gospel is a three-disc set of 102 gramophone and wax-cylinder recordings from the 1890s, many newly discovered. With a 408-page hardcover book of liner notes, it is an otherworldly glimpse into the history of recording and into fin de siècle American voices, mostly male, mostly white, singing vibrant Protestant hymns and reciting prayers.
The first CD collects commercial releases, beginning with a reading of the Lord's Prayer by Emile Berliner, who invented the gramophone (and staged its public debut at the Franklin Institute in 1888), and including the earliest known recording of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" (1894).
The second CD focuses on famous evangelist Ira D. Sankey. The third and most fascinating disc collects amateur and home recordings, including 18 from a Methodist camp meeting in Ocean Grove, N.J., in 1897. This CD includes the only known recording of Fanny Crosby, writer of more than 8,000 hymns, as well as family sing-alongs and children's choirs.
The sound quality varies wildly and the performances can be stilted, but Waxing the Gospel is an absorbing, revealing historical document.
- Steve Klinge