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The Sacred Shakers

The Sacred Shakers – 2008 (Signature Sounds)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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Gospel music is, of course, among the more elastic terms used to describe a genre of American music, or more accurately, any of a number of sub-genres ascribed to the many varieties of music variously labeled as "folk," "roots," "soul," "bluegrass" and more. To one audience, it may conjure the soaring black gospel sounds of James Cleveland, while to another it may take the form of the down-home Sunday meeting hymns and tunes performed by the likes of bluegrass fiddler Michael Cleveland. The Boston-based Sacred Shakers specialize here in a variety of country-based songs of faith echoing from Primitive Baptist shape-note singing to roadhouse honky-tonk with several stops in between.

Starting in 2005, the Shakers have featured an all-star cast of the leading lights of the Boston acoustic/roots scene, and while they're not all necessarily drawn from the Christian tradition that engendered the 14 cuts here, the performances reverberate and reflect the joy that gospel is supposed to be about. At the risk of unfairly minimizing the talents of her seven collaborators, the striking element on this collection is the irresistible voice of Idaho native Eilen Jewell, especially her lead vocals on Ready To Go Home and Twelve Gates To The City.