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Through the Looking Glass
Artist: the Annie Moses Band  http://www.anniemosesband.com 

Label: manAlive Records
Time: 10 tracks / 40:00
 
Category (kat-i-gawr-ee) – noun
Definition:
1. any general or comprehensive division; a class 
Example: the Annie Moses Band defies category 
 
I’m prepared to accept the fact that aspects of my reviews of this band will seem repetitive: for example, my constant reference to the fact that the Annie Moses Band doesn’t fit neatly into any category – not even ‘chamber-pop,’ which has become the stylistic niche that has been created to describe what it is that these talented folks do. The truth is that The Annie Moses Band transcends the ‘pop’ aspect of ‘chamber pop’ too often to relegate it narrowly to that description: yes, there are elements of pop (especially when Alex Wolaver takes center stage), but there is also a healthy dose of jazz, good helpings of classical, doses of country and bluegrass, and occasional forays into the dreaded safe-haven of Adult Contemporary music. If it weren’t for the sheer weight of the talent of the Wolaver family, this would be too great a musical spread to make for a successful album, but The Annie Moses Band performs a musical alchemy that makes this diverse tray of stylistic hors d’oeuvres more than palatable. If the previous sentences sound as if they’re a warning, well, in a way that’s true – the uninitiated listener needs to be aware that the quintet of cherubic-looking faces on the CD cover are about to take you on a ride to musical places that you might not ordinarily go, and for the person who’s been locked into the simpler world of rock and pop - prepare to have your horizons expanded.
 
Through the Looking Glass is the first Annie Moses Band project bringing in an outside producer, and they brought in a powerhouse: the amazing Michael Omartian! Omartian is a music legend, having piled up multiple Grammy awards, and has worked with the likes of Steely Dan, Rod Stewart, Donna Summer, Christopher Cross and many other luminaries, not to mention his own string of classic jazz/rock/prog-pop solo album projects. Omartian’s presence could have hurt the integrity of The Annie Moses Band’s sound through over-production, but – thankfully – the end result is a well-produced record showcasing what the band does best, with just enough producer-polish to take the over-all product to a higher level. The Annie Moses Band still comes through intact. It is, after all, the strength of The Annie Moses Band as a performing unit that makes them the phenomenon that they are: the personal touch will always be vital to this band coming across, and maintaining the integrity of who they are, in the right way.
 
The album starts off with the big, powerful opening percussion-fueled string attack of “Glory Giver.” Annie Wolaver’s signature vocal delivery powerfully showcases the song’s lyrics, which eloquently illustrate the glory that even the humblest believer is destined for. Although the ‘choir’ might be an unnecessary embellishment, the song has tremendous momentum, with a strong attack giving way to a wonderful fugue-like passage before a triumphant-sounding conclusion – a fitting start to an Annie Moses Band project! 
 
A word here about Robin Wolaver’s lyrics, which  are among the strongest being written today, and are stylistically akin to some of the lyrics written years ago by the producer’s wife, Stormie Omartian: Robin Wolaver’s words are poetic and insightful; elegant, but bold and powerful at the same time. It’s not often that a lyricist strikes exactly the right balance of theological insight, social responsibility, and Biblical clarity while retaining the artistic skill and powerful imagery needed to create a really solid, memorable song – but Robin achieves this time after time. On this opening track, it’s all about glory ( “I am a saint dressed in robes of pure white / I am a jewel set in finest silver / I am a follower walking in the light / of the glory of the glory Giver…”), but Robin’s lyrics are equally powerful dealing in more earthly issues such as the genocide taking place in the Sudan (“…Oh, the hatred, it swarms like flies / Simmering in the heat / Who cares if she lives or dies / Who can bring her peace / When there’s no hope for hope / Can the desert that brims with blood / be baptized under the flood / of healing water…”) – a daunting task which she takes on at the half-way point of the album in “It Takes a Savior.”  
 
In their weaker moments, the AMB can succumb to commercial tendencies, as in the pop love song, “Rainy Day,” which, to these ears, melodically evokes the old pop hit, “I write the Songs.” Interestingly, this is followed by the very powerful, more introspective and haunting “Read Between the Lines,” which could become a monster cross-over hit on the Adult Contemporary charts – this song is a romantic barn-burner, and a standard in the making.
 
A delightful highlight comes next with the surprise treat of “Halo of the Moon,” featuring the songwriting and lead singing of Alex Wolaver. Having an appeal at least the equal of the Omartian-produced Christopher Cross Sailing album, which swept the 1981 Grammy Awards (although, ironically, this is the one track not produced by Omartian, but by the multi-talented Alex Wolaver!), this is a song that has a special presence of its own. The vocals on this track are warm, friendly and very non-threatening, although more than competent – the kind of voice that you simply want to listen to. “Halo” is definitely in the pop category, with a bouncy, pleasant tempo and performed with an intimate band-feeling. Santiago’s drum-fills are right on-target and Alex delivers a thrilling viola line right where you expect to hear the guitar solo. Like it or not, the viola player becomes a pop star on this one. Alex returns two tracks later with the interesting “Golden Mean,” a tribute to the order of God’s universe, and an insight into the very… ordered mind of Alex Wolaver! 
 
Between these two tracks is perhaps the strongest musical statement on the album, “It Takes a Savior,” which dramatically points out what it takes when the village isn’t enough, and shows the Annie Moses Band at its strongest emotionally and musically. The song provides a very powerful high-point on the album. 
 
“We Were Meant to Be” is a wonderfully written and performed love song – the words ‘radio cut’ follow the title, indicating that this might be the track that you’ll eventually hear on the radio. As with most albums by the Annie Moses Band, there is usually at least one instrumental track, and it’s always a special treat. “Moffat Jig” follows the title track and closes the album on an up-beat string-fest with plenty of good percussion from Javier to keep things ‘jiggy’ enough.
 
If the Flying Wallendas were the first family of trapeze artists, then the ‘flying’ Wolavers are the first family of home-grown string-players. There in the background, behind Annie (lead vocal and violin), Alex (lead vocal and viola), Benjamin (cello), Camille (harp and keyboard), Gretchen (violin and mandolin), and Jeremiah (guitar and banjo), are mom and dad – Bill and Robin – contributing arrangements, songwriting and piano (Bill) and vocals and lyrics (Robin). The versatile and masterful drumming of Javier Santiago dependably provides a backbone to the proceedings, while the bass playing of Mario Sanjermano adds a measure of soul and solidity where it’s called for.
 
The Annie Moses Band is amazing, hard to describe, and harder to forget once you’ve encountered them: I’ve said since the first time I’d ever heard them, that they’re one Oprah appearance away from becoming a national phenomenon. 
 
Where else but on an Annie Moses Band CD are you going to get songs about love, the after-life, the moon, and the relationship of pinecones, spiral galaxies and Pythagoras… all followed by a jig? 
 
Not bad for chamber pop.
 
Bert Saraco 
http://www.myspace.com/expressimage     
http://expressimagephoto.tripod.com 
 
, and kudos to Micheal Omartian for letting the Annie Moses Band be themselves…..  
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
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