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Happy Hosting, Happy New Year - Rob Ellen
Sisters Ann, Regina, Deborah and Alfreda McCrary are not only a wonderful vocal quartet but have in part or whole aided projects by Buddy Miller, Bob Dylan (three albums) and Tom Russell plus recent releases from Nashville’s ageless gospel ensemble, The Fairfield Four and exciting new Americana singer-songwriter act Sam Lewis. For them to add their talent to the Fairfield Four is no real surprise, due to their late father, Rev. Samuel McCrary was a founder member of the quartet.
Much as I admire their music and work on the likes of the above, their contribution to Buddy Miller’s stellar album, Universal United House Of Prayer in particular is immense. In the past I have found their own albums less impressive than anticipated. Hence, though my expectations were high I did have a few reservations on placing this McCrary Sisters recording on my player, yet knowingly felt that if any man could get the best out of the girls’ producer Buddy Miller was the man. Let’s Go remains a little patchy or it could be me looking for perfection as they peak on the likes of the terrific moving ballad “Hold On”, He Split The Rock / My Blind Driver” (Julie Miller/Buddy Miller), “Walk With The Lord”, “I John” (a variant of “Twelve Gates To The City”) and fevered, heart-wrenching soulful gospel ballad “Use Me Lord” (Rev. James Cleveland) plus a stellar version of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings’ “The Mark”. It sounds like it was written centuries ago, it is that good and is matched by some of the finest sibling harmony vocals one could wish for, plus there is also some tidy, sympathetic guitar (Miller) to go with it! Quality!
There’s more too every bit as good, as in stirring a cappella “Don’t Let Nobody Turn You ‘Round” with the above noted Fairfield Four and Allen McCrary. While with restrained piano and organ accompaniment and some of the album’s finest lead vocals “I’d Rather Have Jesus” underlines the class of the girls and players involved; Miller, Derrek Phillips, Chris Wood, Ralph Lofton and Marc Copley. Beautifully understated, but with sufficient support to make it roll gently the performance made a huge, if not greater imprint on me than any other song on the record. Of the remainder “Old Shoes” is short and sweet in the best possible way, with penultimate “Hold The Wind” and peaceful ode “Walk In The Light” left to put the 16-track set to bed.
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