Get local news delivered straight to your phone
Support City Paper!
The stars of this year’s Folklife Festival weren’t such luminaries as the New Lost City Ramblers or even Wade and Julia Mainer but three couples from coal-mining country. Shunning the stage for a row of chairs on the grass, the men sat to the left, the women to the right. One of the men would choose a hymn and dig in with a vocal line at once plain and richly ornamented; the others would join in, but before they had quite finished the phrase, the leader would quickly set out the next line. The singers duplicated the words in long, wailing, unscorable lines, setting up an antiphony that carried through the rest of the tune. Their voices joined in a way that has nothing to do with metronomic time, and they were loud in a way that surpasses sound. With this new recording of singing from the Kentuckians’ home congregation, Smithsonian Folkways remains one of the few government bodies of which one can be unabashedly proud. This is an attractive package, handsomely designed, well recorded, and boasting impeccable scholarship both respectful of its subjects and careful to keep an appropriate distance while observing their world. The CD booklet offers testimony, lyrics, and formal analysis, as well as a history of a faith sadly shaped by Calvinist squabbles. Not without schism, of course, do you get a denomination that advertises its age, constancy, and preference for a specific sacrament. But as is suggested by cathedral architecture and confirmed by the counterexample of such virulently evangelical stylistic jackdaws as Third Day and Grammatrain (only two of many Pearl Job/Stone Temple Prophets redefining Christian music these days), good fences make good choirs.Glenn Dixon