Songs of the Sacred Harp

Folk music can be tremendous, glorious and spiritual too, as the Sacred Harp demonstrates. Contemporary practitioners take note.

Folk music isn't all bearded backwoodsmen and bohemian activists. Traditionally, American folk music has been a joyous and mesmerizing thing--beatniks and '60s folk revivalists take note. Sacred Harp is a type of Southern spiritual music in the folk tradition, named after the sole sacred instrument used in the performance, a voice box. To these spiritual roots, contemporary folk musicians should really pay attention: to hypnotic lyrical spirituality.

Disc one of the soundtrack to a film telling the story of the Sacred Harp, Awake, My Soul, comprises songs sung a cappella, in the traditional form. The other disc has contemporary folk musicians reimagining Sacred Harp songs. Sam Amidon applies his precious and breathy folk to traditional song "Kedron." Compared with the original there is a huge difference, but it's their similarities that may be missed. Sam Amidon's recording is more immediate, perhaps more haunting in its quick passing. A performance of the original version from Old St. John's Historic Church, Rutherdfordton, N.C. is a different experience all together but both versions share the same roots, and similar intentions--music intended to elevate the listeners beyond everyday experience, reminding them of tradition and spirit, whatever shape or form it may take.

I tremble, lest the wrath divine,
Which bruises now my wretched soul,
Should bruise this wretched soul of mine,
Long as eternal ages roll.

--from "Kedron" by Sam Amidon

TMN Editor Mike Deri Smith is no gourmet, he just has an abnormally large stomach. He lives in London. More by Mike Deri Smith

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