The Montana A Cappella Society, christened by Gov. Steve Bullock as “Montana’s Ambassador of Song,” has released a follow-up to Stories of America, an album inspired by attending a choral festival in Cork, Ireland, in 2013. This new effort by the longtime community choral group from Hamilton features music they sang at the invitation-only International Choral Festival in Tuscany, Italy, last summer, where they performed in three churches.
Along with sacred pieces the group learned for the trip, the recording features older popular standards from their repertoire, and the finale, “So Long, Farewell, Goodbye,” written by Scotty Morris of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.
All tracks were recorded live in Hamilton’s historic St. Paul’s Episcopal Church except for the 12th century “Salve Regina,” recorded during the society’s last performance in Italy, at the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta in Montecatini Terme. It was sung after the church service; bells can be heard tolling during the song, an unintended yet fitting accompaniment.
Arranger/artistic director and founder Don Matlock, since retired, adapted many of the pieces. The traditional 19th century spirituals include “Children Go Where I Send Thee,” “Down to the River to Pray,” and a great arrangement of “My Lord, What a Mornin’.” It’s a hymn that starts quietly, then morphs into a march, building to a crescendo that’s glorious in its depth, and ringing to the rafters before ending in a hush. Wow!
The Green/Homer/Brown swinger, “Sentimental Journey,” opens with a hollered “1-2-3-4-1,” and sports a train toot. Jerry Ross’s “Steam Heat” has lots of hisses and a snappy feel, and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “The Girl from Ipanema” sways with soft palm-tree ambience.
The 17-voice choir sings many leads in unison, particularly on the sacred music, and layers the vocals in almost every song for a lush feel. Superb engineering by Jason Hicks of Joan Zen fame shows how the Montana A Cappella Society sounds in a live setting. No wonder they were chosen to perform in Europe, twice!
– Mariss McTucker