The Montana A Cappella Society, the Bitterroot Valley’s well-traveled choral group, is at it again with their new release, Stories of America. The volunteer ensemble of community singers toured Ireland in April, after accepting an invitation to perform at the International Choral Festival in Cork.
This diverse collection, their third release since 2007, comprises 19 goodies that came out of preparations for the festival; they span light years in the American musical lexicon, from the 13th century on.
The repertoire is divided into four smaller sets: “Romantic Stories,” “Stories of the Soul,” “Stories of Resistance,” and “Travelin’ Stories.” Popular tunes of the day, spirituals, songs of the sea, musical numbers, and even a ’50’s doo-wop song, have their day.
Liner notes by artistic director Don Matlock remind us that music from all over the world ended up in the melting pot that is the U.S. The Montana A Cappella Society distilled this stew and took it on the road.
There’s the rousing dance number, “At the Chocolate Bon-Bon Ball,” in which the “bum-bum-bum” of the men’s bass notes counter the ladies’ lyric-tumbling lead vocals. Or take the eerie film-score nuances, vast and sweeping like the prairie, of “Cool Water.” The lead vocal is coupled with a high and sweet soprano repeating “water” in the background, making for a nifty arrangement by Matlock.
Following that are a couple seafaring numbers. First is “Fareweel Tae Tarwathie,” a robust waltz about whale-hunting. Then we segue to “Frobisher Bay,” that enters with seabirds on the wind; we hear a breath, then a sound, fraught with foreboding and longing. “‘One more whale,’ our captain cried, ‘one more whale and we’ll beat the ice.’” Voices sing the melody in unison, then break into three-part harmony on the chorus.
“The Bard of Armagh” is a traditional Irish song whose melody was borrowed for “The Streets of Laredo” ; and “I’ve Been ‘Buked” is a traditional spiritual from the 19th century, with an interjected “yes!” and a “yo!” for punch. “Danny Boy” starts quickly, soon morphing into a more familiar pace after a key change, sweet and sad.
Perhaps my favorite on the album, the modern spiritual “Nothin’ Gonna Stumble,” rocks! It slips in with whispered lyrics, soulful and snappy, vociferous and bluesy. In another really cool arrangement, the voices build with the hopeful and joyous lyrics.
“Simple Gifts” is a Shaker song from the 1800s, and the traditional American hymn “Down to the River to Pray” highlights the chorale’s harmonies. In “I Want Jesus,” the men and women alternate on the lead, trade a repeated “walk with me” in cool counterpoint, and the song builds to a long soprano sustain that ends with a bluesy feel.
The CD has good production values as well, especially for a live performance, thanks to Jason and Deborah Hicks, who recorded it live at Corvallis United Methodist Church.
The Montana A Cappella Society will perform “Gifts of the Season,” a free concert for the community, at 8 p.m. Dec. 21 at the Hamilton Performing Arts Center. Guest guitarist John Floridis of Missoula will join them.
Visit www.mtacappella.com for more information.
– Mariss McTucker