Sweet Honey In the Rock – Love In Evolution
As long as people produce and sell albums, the world should always have a place for a group like Sweet Honey in the Rock. Much has happened in the nine years since the six piece a cappella group’s last studio release – the Iraqi War was in full swing still and President Obama had not yet been elected. Much remains the same, however, and Sweet Honey in the Rock takes up the same concerns they’ve always held with urgency, eloquence, and ample artistic style. It’s that artistic style, however, that’s most crucial to their success. The group’s new album, Love in Evolution, never browbeats, hectors, or cajoles its listeners – instead, for eleven tracks, we’re treated to a virtuosic vocal display, melody after memorable melody, and tastefully assembled support from top shelf musicians without ever feeling like the group is looking to covert or evangelize in any significant way. If they have a cause, and they do, the eleven songs on this album make it abundantly clear that they are fighting and singing for the dignity of the human spirit.
Many of these songs are about community. The opener, “Somebody Prayed For Me”, is a traditional track given the full a cappella treatment. It empathizes a common theme in the group’s music – the dense interconnectedness uniting us all and how we can find intellectual and emotional nourishment in turning our hearts over to another. While the opener travels familiar territory, Sweet Honey in the Rock isn’t content to pursue it for long and takes a sharp turn into different land on “The Living Waters”. While much of the religious-themed imagery remains the same, the song introduces additional musical elements. At first listen, the backing sounds rudimentary or ornamental, but more than a cursory hearing will reveal how ideally suited the bass and percussion are for the group’s delivery. “I Don’t Want No Trouble By the River” finds the sextet venturing closer to pure blues and gospel once again, The confluence of melody and vocal arrangement make this a bit grittier than the opening song, but there’s still the same blue-hued hope peering out from every line.
Their cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me” has an unexpectedly original touch thanks to their partitioning of the track as half spoken word introduction and the second half devoted to a straight cover of the classic song. Their backing harmonies deserve particular mention – their pinpoint accuracy and flawless tone add a final, victorious touch to one of the album’s finest moments. “Operator/Jesus Is On The Mainline” is, arguably, the album’s finest shot of deep blues and burns with remarkably restrained energy, but Sweet Honey in the Rock couldn’t have concluded the album better than they do on “We Have Come This Far”, a valedictory appraisal of a journey and the promising, if not difficult, miles ahead. It’s an astonishing and completely satisfying end to a true artistic statement. Sweet Honey in the Rock’s Love in Evolution looks to the future, but it’s also a clear reminder of why this seminal unit continues to command such respect.
9 out of 10 stars