The Sojourners

The Sojourners
The Sojourners

Black Hen Music

By Mike Mellor
February 2010

Have you ever listened to an album where you didn't appreciate the beginning until after you heard the end?

There are eleven tracks on The Sojourner's new eponymous release, the first three of which are fairly cut-and-dried gospel songs, with familiar themes and a smooth finish. The harmonizing vocals and testifying, the clap-able percussion, rolling organs and slide guitars are all there just as you'd expect. The voices are tight, in-tune and polished.

This isn't totally strange, since they are, above all, a gospel group. However, considering how the group was formed as an element for a secular music project (Jim Byrnes' House of Refuge album) and how the adventurous Steve Dawson of Black Hen Music produced the album, I was expecting something a little different. Three songs and nearly twelve minutes into it, I was afraid that this was all we would get.

But on the fourth track they begin to define their personality beyond the gospel traditions, and that's where the record gets really good. The middle portion expands the sonic landscape across genres of rhythm, rots, blues and soul, and some songs tackle secular issues like deceased soldiers (“Another Soldier Gone”) and the social ills of ghetto life (Los Lobos' “The Neighborhood”). Having gone afield, the album closes by returning to the same terrain where it started, thus completing the circle, creating context and making the first few songs better on subsequent listening.

It's like going for a casual Sunday drive into the country and returning back to town…after going to church, of course.

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