Formed around members of the Tarbox Ramblers and the Eilen Jewell Band in Boston to play a gospel brunch series on Sundays, The Sacred Shakers aren't so much a gospel act as they are a group of friends who happen to love playing old songs of faith with enthusiasm and sincerity.
Jewell is a familiar face and voice, but she's just one of several here who takes a turn on lead vocals. Other notable names involved include banjo and one-man-band practitioner Eric Royer and Boston bluegrasser Daniel Fram, but if there is a real star it isn't the performers but the songs and the performances on this live recording.
The members of The Sacred Shakers dig deep into gospel blues and the early days of the traveling tent revivals to come up with selections that are mostly unfamiliar public domain discoveries, playing them with the assurance of gospel standards. They also play these songs with the effortless attitude of great musicians, creating a spiritually rich texture with simple arrangements and vocal harmonizing that approximates the Jubilee-style quartets on tracks such as I'm Tired (taking their cue perhaps from the Lomax-recorded Bright Light Quartet's version), or from Johnny Cash's Tennessee Two on the chunka-chunka rhythms of Belshazzar.
Even the more well-known material such as Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down (from the Louvin Brothers and more recently Uncle Tupelo's version) is given new energy and spirit, in this case through the band's lively interpretation that plays electric guitar off violin and banjo for a full but not frenetic sound.
There's nothing more joyful than the old gospel songs, something the Sacred Shakers have taken to heart with their loose-limbed, bar band at the altar style which is enough to make even the most dedicated sinner get into the spirit.