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Music Review: The Sojourners – The Sojourners

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If you truly love someone, you’re genuinely happy when they’re happy, right? Well, gospel music can have the same effect. One doesn’t have to be a believer to be moved by the sheer joy and unshakable conviction of great gospel music. When the mood is as uplifting and the music as potent as that found on The Sojourners, the underlying message is moot, and belief is almost beside the point.

Marcus Mosely, Ron Small, and Will Sanders are all gospel music veterans with years of experience. They first came together as a group when Vancouver-based Mosely was asked to assemble an ensemble to provide background vocals for a tune by label mate Jim Byrnes.

It was a serendipitous moment – the chemistry was instant, the three voices blending together in sublime harmony.  Dubbed The Sojourners by Byrnes, they’ve subsequently provided backing on a number of projects, and this is their second outing as a trio.

The material is primarily traditional, most of the songs so strong they sound as though they’ve been around forever, although there are a couple that don’t work quite as well as others – “Another Soldier Gone” is a bit cheesy, with a spoken-word interlude that might work in church but doesn’t quite hold secular interest. Surprises come by way of “The Neighborhood,” co-composed by David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, and “When I Die,” a well-worn oldie from one-hit wonders Motherlode. Blues fans will delight in the chilling reading of Reverend Gary Davis’ “Death Don’t Have No Mercy.”

Black Hen label honcho Steve Dawson’s textured guitar work provides stellar sonic atmosphere throughout. Dawson, who produced the project, has emerged as something of a roots-music wunderkind lately, showing a sure hand at crafting compelling yet unobtrusive backing that’s invariably sympathetic to the song, while injecting enough modern touches to keep things sounding fresh and exciting.

But as intriguing as Dawson’s arrangements might be, it’s the voices that carry a gospel tune, and The Sojourners are collectively magnificent. Whether they’re trading leads or weaving intricate counter-melodies, the vocal work is simply stunning. One needn’t be a believer to be captivated by the passion and fervor they bring to every note – their belief is powerful enough.

A stunning recording, this one’s pure delight!

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