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Sweet Honey in the Rock

The Women Gather (2002)

4.7

May 23, 2003

Tuning / Blend 4.0
Energy / Intensity 5.0
Innovation / Creativity 4.3
Soloists 4.3
Sound / Production 4.0
Repeat Listenability 4.0
Tracks
1 The Women Gather 4.3
2 Fly 4.7
3 The Voice of the Innocent 4.3
4 Give the People Their Right to Vote 4.3
5 Georgia Red Clay II 4.3
6 Ballad of the Sit-Ins 4.0
7 Let Us Rise in Love 4.3
8 22 Hours in the Day 4.0
9 Solid Gold II 4.3
10 Somebody Prayed Me Over 4.3
11 Ballad of Harry T. Moore 4.7
12 That Awful Day Will Surely Come 3.7
13 Nyoka Boko II 5.0
14 Prayer at the Crossroads 4.7
15 African Oasis II 4.3
16 Yes It Was 4.3
17 Come Unto Me 4.0
18 We Want the Vote! Chant 4.0

Recorded 2001 – 2002
Total time: 62:06, 18 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 The Women Gather 5
2 Fly 5
3 The Voice of the Innocent 5
4 Give the People Their Right to Vote 5
5 Georgia Red Clay II 4
6 Ballad of the Sit-Ins 4
7 Let Us Rise in Love 5
8 22 Hours in the Day 4
9 Solid Gold II 4
10 Somebody Prayed Me Over 4
11 Ballad of Harry T. Moore 5
12 That Awful Day Will Surely Come 4
13 Nyoka Boko II 5
14 Prayer at the Crossroads 4
15 African Oasis II 5
16 Yes It Was 5
17 Come Unto Me 5
18 We Want the Vote! Chant 5

Sweet Honey In the Rock (SHIR) has been an icon in the world of a cappella for a generation. On The Women Gather, the world's most renowned African-American women's a cappella sextet celebrates their 30th anniversary with an impressive release.

For those few unfamiliar with SHIR, their sound is driven first and foremost by powerful lyrics that address human struggle, social issues, the fight against oppression, and a broad vision of a divine spirit. The music is free-flowing in rhythm, melody, and structure. Almost all the arrangements are harmonically simple and achieve a hypnotic power through repetition and subtle dynamic change. The soloists are always truthful, gritty, and compelling.

The production on this studio album is appropriately sparse. You won't find added sub-harmonics or auto-tune. However, the recording is a little too bright (possibly too much aural exciter) and ever so slightly too reverb-y (wet) for my tastes. Casual listeners are unlikely to be distracted by either of these issues.

Some a cappella fans may find the mix to disfavor the leads. This is appropriate when one considers the interwoven, ensemble-based sound SHIR strives for. Nonetheless, the mix does occasionally bury parts which might otherwise occupy more dominant positions while allowing less important lines to take center stage. Again though, the distraction is slight when one gets caught up in the power and message of the music.

Eighteen albums, a 1989 Grammy Award, a book, a video, national awards for children's music, CASA awards, a 2000 Grammy Nomination — few a cappella groups of any genre have enjoyed such a distinguished career. SHIR is both musical and moving. Anyone interested in a cappella and the struggle for human rights would do well to listen to The Women Gather.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 The Women Gather 4
2 Fly 4
3 The Voice of the Innocent 3
4 Give the People Their Right to Vote 4
5 Georgia Red Clay II 4
6 Ballad of the Sit-Ins 4
7 Let Us Rise in Love 3
8 22 Hours in the Day 3
9 Solid Gold II 4
10 Somebody Prayed Me Over 4
11 Ballad of Harry T. Moore 4
12 That Awful Day Will Surely Come 3
13 Nyoka Boko II 5
14 Prayer at the Crossroads 5
15 African Oasis II 3
16 Yes It Was 3
17 Come Unto Me 3
18 We Want the Vote! Chant 3

Sweet Honey in the Rock presents The Women Gather, an album of African-American music that's cultural, spiritual, and political in nature. It is an interesting collection of music with much meaning to the women of Sweet Honey in the Rock, and it may hold equal meaning for you.

Many of the songs are accompanied by various percussion instruments, which add a lot to the songs. These ladies can sing, and they do so quite well. This album is very lightly produced, so there are definitely mistakes and missed notes. However, if you enjoy this type of music and prefer lightly produced, raw-sounding music, The Women Gather is a good album for you.

The women all have very powerful voices with distinct vibrato. The backgrounds to their pieces do not have great blend, as the vibratos tend to contrast and clash much like The Persuasions. But that's a particular style and choice in singing that contributes to this type of music.

There are some pitchy moments throughout the album. This is likely a result of the very simple production and recording. This also means that the album is probably a very good indication of how Sweet Honey in the Rock sounds live — a gauge that many produced albums no longer have.

The album is very long. Eighteen songs total. This could be a good thing...more music for your money. However, if you are just looking for a taste, know that this is a full-course meal.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 The Women Gather 4
2 Fly 5
3 The Voice of the Innocent 5
4 Give the People Their Right to Vote 4
5 Georgia Red Clay II 5
6 Ballad of the Sit-Ins 4
7 Let Us Rise in Love 5
8 22 Hours in the Day 5
9 Solid Gold II 5
10 Somebody Prayed Me Over 5
11 Ballad of Harry T. Moore 5
12 That Awful Day Will Surely Come 4
13 Nyoka Boko II 5
14 Prayer at the Crossroads 5
15 African Oasis II 5
16 Yes It Was 5
17 Come Unto Me 4
18 We Want the Vote! Chant 4

The Women Gather is a breathtaking collection of songs influenced by issues of social justice, the African American experience, political unrest, and human rights. The music represents a wide array of stylistic nuances and unique arrangements. It is most notable, however, for its ability to transmit its message not only through lyrics, but also through the democratic, communal way in which the six women of Sweet Honey in the Rock empower song as a vehicle of activism.

Not intimately familiar with African and gospel music, I'm afraid I don't have the vocabulary to describe the feelings that both the sound and words arouse within me. The use of jazz, spiritual, and contemporary music combine to engage the listener as an active participant, feeling the music from deep within. The earthy, primitive harmonies — which is not to mean uncivilized, but rather uncomplicated and soulful — bring forth values of freedom, the celebration of life, and hopes for the liberation of all peoples around the world.

With the deepest, purest female bass I have ever heard and a huge range spanning at least 3 octaves, The Women Gather sounds almost like a mixed vocal group rich with tenor and low alto lines. These voices symbolically combine to represent the diversity of experience and humanity described throughout the album in words. Especially poignant is the music describing events and feelings after September 11, 2001. These songs are an invitation to partake in the healing process through joining a "dialogue of multiple voices" that embraces hope. It offers a vision that a community can rebuild itself through a cooperative spirit and unity of purpose and identity. My one complaint may stem from the contrast between my musical training and this unique genre, but not one of these songs ever rises in dynamic, tone, or volume to come to a climax. For the most part they are static, yet tell stories that themselves culminate as finite narratives with moral lessons. Take special note of the shorter, non-English pieces whose titles end in "II". These high energy compositions are free spirited tunes reminiscent of African tribal song and dance and, according to the Sweet Honey in the Rock website, are often improvised in concert in extended versions.

There are a thousand words to illustrate the images stirred up by these songs: tapestry, solidarity, empowerment, emancipation, celebration, and community are merely a few. Drawing from Biblical, historical, and political inspirations, The Women Gather is a compendium of stirring, contemplative pieces that compel the listener to be a part of the music-making. It's impossible to sit passively through these songs. The album's title refers to the group's metaphoric gathering of listeners to join the cause, feel the spirit and pulse of the captivating rhythms, and make meaning of the struggles and triumphs of humankind.

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Ordering Information

Available at all major record retail outlets; via web at www.earthbeatrecords.com; direct by phone from 1-800-346-4445.

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