Annie Moses Band 'Pilgrims & Prodigals' Album Review

Timothy YapAug 31, 2012 12:45 PM EDT

Prime Cuts: I've Got a Name, My Room, Love's Legacy

Every character-be it a prodigal or pilgrim-in Annie Moses Band's eighth album is a charmer. Wrapped with sonic flesh and sinews, each character in each one of these 13 cuts tells of his or her pilgrimage with an array of emotions and thoughts. Never caricatured or contrived these stories are so palatable that we will find ourselves nodding with empathy. A thematic album of sorts-all the songs here speak of people leaving their physical or spiritual home (i.e., prodigals) or returning home (i.e., pilgrims). Though God and spirituality percolates throughout the disc, Annie Moses Band also tries to relate faith in a wider context via human relationships. Thus, you will find this family group dappling not only with overtly Christian paeans but also pop covers such as Elton John's "Love Song" and Jim Croce's "I Have a Name" as well as more traditional flairs (such as "Blarney Pilgrim,""Poor Wayfaring Pilgrim" and "Girl of Constant Sorrow"). Although "Prodigals and Prodigals" is their eighth release, the bulk of their canon consists of mostly Christmas albums. So, technically this is just their fourth non-seasonal effort and also perhaps their most anticipated one. With the seeds of this album conceived twelve years, finally with the help of producer Michael Omartin (Cliff Richard, Christopher Cross, Donna Summer, Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith) this album has finally seen the light of day.

Maybe it's because of the presence of genre crossing guru Michael Omartin at the helm, there's not a single dull moment on this disc. Just like Omartin's CV, there's a cross pollination of classical, jazz, country, pop and Appalachian bluegrass interweaved into the entire collection. And just like their previous efforts daughter Annie Wolaver takes the lead vocals on the lion's share of the tracks here. Annie has a shriek high soprano with some Celtic shades of Charlotte Church mixed with some down home bluegrass overtones of Alison Krauss. This time around Omartin has taken Annie to another level with "Love's Legacy." A cinematic ballad with a Disney-styled orchestrated climax, 'Love's Legacy" allows her to utilize her melisma to soaring heights. This is certainly a highlight of the album. Similarly bedded in a sequin of strings is the lullaby-like "My Room." This ballad is like a story book retelling of the beauty of heaven; and the childlike simplicity of Annie's voice just makes it gorgeously sweet. Stylistically "Read Between the Lines" moves from the movie-styled pomp to the contemporary balladry of say Celine Dion where the song is a pilgrim prayer to God to be gracious unto us despite our depravity and sin. While Gothic rock meets classical on "Where Do We Go From Here"-here Annie sounds like an energized Sarah Brightman and she has never sounded more passionate.

One major departure from their previous albums is that brother Alex Wolaver steps up to the microphone on three cuts. While Annie has to be commended for her high soaring notes, yet often her high soprano could not bring out down-to-earth warmth on the more rustic cuts. This is where Alex's relaxing tenor compliments well. The best among the Alex's helmed cuts is his take on Jim Croce's chestnut "I've Got a Name." I've Got a Name" is given a country makeover that is so melodious that makes you want to press the "repeat" button again and again. On "Progress" we have Bunyan's "Pilgrim Progress" set to music over a neo-bluegrass Americana backing. Least Interesting among the trio of Alex's cuts is the pop ballad "Road Well Travelled" which tells of a pilgrim's bout with sin and temptation over the wider road hinging upon the overwrought imagery from the Sermon on the Mount.

Amongst a solid album there are a couple esoteric spots: first, unless you are a violin virtuoso the instrumental Celtic favorite "Blarney Pilgrim" is just an exercise of tedious indulgence. Second, Elton John has certainly co-written numerous songs with religious echoes (such as "The One" or "Sacrifice") that would definitely benefit from a Christian reading. But unfortunately "Love Song" is just not one of them. Overall, most of the songs on this disc here each have a face and character. Stylistically, they are never bound by just one genre. Lyrically they tell stories of faith and challenges that we all can identify with. And spiritually they are Biblically centered without being too overtly pious and religiously aloof.

READ HERE Annie Moses Band Soars to new Heights on 'Pilgrims & Prodigals' September 25
READ HERE 9th annual Annie Moses Band's Fine Arts Summer Academy to Conclude with Gala Showcase Featuring over 180 Musicians

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