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With The Sacred Shakers, church is in

Sinclair Cambridge, Cambridge, Mass., December 4, 2014

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Church was in, even if it was hump day, in the form of The Sacred Shakers.

The band is mainly comprised of Eilen Jewell's band with a few hangers on. But there were no lightweights when it came to being additional players because this was quite the group effort with five different - and all most worthy - lead singers.

And what they sang were mainly gospel-based songs, often with a lot of kick. Perfect music for an annual holiday tour especially with members spread from Boston to Boise, Idaho, Santa Fe, N.M. and Chicago. With various other projects going on and Christmas at hand, it's the time of the season for The Sacred Shakers.

And whether Christian, Jewish or agnostic (the band's web site says that band members encompass all three), the Shakers made the seated crowd do that and more during a joyous nearly 100-minute show.

Jewell was sort of the focal point of the octet and the only woman. While she's enjoyed her own country career, this, presumably, for her and her band mates, provided a chance to stretch it out musically.

While one might think that five lead singers was way too much for any one band, the Shakers embraced the vocal diversity. Eric Royer (who also played banjo), Jason Beek (drummer, who doubles as Jewell's husband), Daniel Fram acoustic guitar) and Greg Glassman (acoustic guitar) each had their own style on songs ranging from The Swan Silvertones ("Tell God") to Bessie Jones ("You Better Mind") to Gid Tanner ("You Better Quick Drinking That Shine") to the Rev. Gary Davis (a few songs from him, causing Jewell to declare "we're basically a Rev. Gary Davis cover band").

Do not underestimate at all the contributions of the non-singers. First and foremost was axe man Jerry Miller, who doled out licks with aplomb. He was steely, twangy and sharp, sometimes playing slide. The guy seemed to always add the right touch and needn't be center stage to do so. Fiddle player Daniel Keller and bassist Johnny Sciascia handled their parts as well.

The Sacred Shakers may not be for everybody based on the subject matter (although, in reality, few songs outright mentioned Jesus). And perhaps purists would not be enamored of mixing a Saturday night setting with Sunday morning songs.

But that would be their loss. The Sacred Shakers more than lived up to their name.

In the opening part of the excellent bill, Zoe Muth and The Lost High Rollers offered a sound of a different kind as well - traditional country. Muth, from Austin via Seattle, made it clear that her brand of country has scarcely anything to do with what most folks consider country these days only seconds into her set.

The blonde-haired Muth offered a bunch of her own worthy songs ("Mama Needs a Margarita") plus a cover of Townes Van Zandt's "Lungs," offering a different sound. Muth's a good singer with a clear voice, although that sometimes got lost towards the ends of lines.

Muth also had a sharp band behind her led by Austin-based guitarist Eric Hisaw.

On this night of music that sounded as if going back in time, both Muth and The Sacred Shakers made old sounds sound most welcome.