American RhapsodyWhen you’re as good at what you do as these folks are, the level of artistry is almost academic…

Annie Moses Band
American Rhapsody
Warner Classics
14 / 60:44

In many ways, the Annie Moses Band’s last effort, Pilgrims and Prodigals, saw the musical siblings exploring new avenues as they stepped out of their usual exclusively self-penned songs to include covers of standards- and even a pair of pop tunes. With American Rhapsody these pilgrims are still exploring, but this time the journey is quite specifically about the American experience and the cultural and musical heritage that defines who we are and where we came from. The chamber-pop formula once again gives way to chamber folk, chamber country, and ultimately some bluegrass/jazz.

Released on the prestigious Warner Classics label, American Rhapsody showcases the band’s virtuosity and ability to zero in on a theme with textbook-like specificity, almost creating a musical primer for those interested in exploring the spirit of developing Americana. Of the fourteen songs, two are traditional and five are arrangements adapted from other composers, which – aside from the band’s Christmas collections – makes this the Annie Moses Band album with the least amount of original compositions, certainly a bold step away from their usual format.

As always, the impeccable playing of this family of musicians is nothing less than a stunning interaction of taste and technique. The players are: Annie Dupre (violin 1, lead vocals), Alex Wolaver (viola, vocals), Benjamin Wolaver (cello, background vocals), Camille Dasilva (harp, B3, piano, background vocals), Gretchen Wolaver (violin 2, mandolin, lead vocals, lead and acoustic guitar), and Jeremiah Wolaver (electric guitar, vocals – not at the children’s’ table any more…)

One interesting bit of trivia that will astound your friends: Chester Thompson, one of half a dozen additional musicians on the album, was part of the late Frank Zappa’s band in the mid-70s.  Talk about degrees of separation!

No longer listed as part of ‘the band’ but always there in spirit are ‘mom and dad’ Wolaver. Bill still writes, arranges and plays piano and Robin still contributes evocative, thoughtful lyrics, but both seem to be willingly stepping aside to let the children shine on their own.

There are moments as big as the horizon, like the epic opener, “In the New World,” and moments that shimmer gently, like Bill and Robin’s “The Grass on The Prairie.’   “Psalm of Life” is a complex pairing of classical chamber music and an early Irish folk song, drawing lyrics from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  “West, Pioneer” sounds like a full-blown western-themed musical, leading right into an appropriately spirited arrangement of Aaron Copeland’s instrumental, “Hoedown.”

No sampler of Americana would be complete without a song written by Stephen Foster, and Jeremiah steps to the fore on “Hard Times.” Of course, this is just a sampling of the fourteen tracks, and the last word goes to Gershwin, as six sibs add some country feeling on “Rhapsody in Bluegrass.”

When you’re as good at what you do as these folks are, the level of artistry is almost academic. Certainly, this project is somewhat of a departure, and – as good as it is – I’ll welcome the return to more personal, original ‘in-house’ songwriting with more spiritual themes. While there’s much that’s inspirational about American Rhapsody, I miss that combined gut-punch of stirring melody and to-the-heart lyric that this wonderful musical treasure of a family is able to bring to the table.

The Annie Moses Band brings to you, for your consideration…. America! Get wrapped in the Rhapsody.

Bert Saraco