Sweet Honey In the Rock is comprised of four black Washington women who are using their cultural bounty and natural vocal talents to inform, orient and inspire everyone having the good fortune to hear them.
This rare composite of a cappella virtuosos, directed by American music historian Bernice Reagon, has just released an important new album of original songs entitled, "Believe I'll Run On, See What the End's Gonna Be." In this new album (Redwood Records), as well as on their earlier disc (Flying Fish Records), the vitality of these ladies' natural singing voices squarely competes with more popularized and exploited music forms for the discerning music lover's fancy. There's no doubt in my mind that in the long run, the Sweet Honey sound of Bernice Reagon, Evelyn Harris, Yasmeen Williams and Pat Johnson will win hands down.
About themselves, they say: "We are a group of black women singing . . . By singing together we become more ourselves. We create the additional space to be who we are . . . We are serious about being black people and reflecting that in our work." With those sentiments, Sweet Honey has produced this new and exciting album in cooperation with a work force of women who intend to see their work and other women's creative efforts reach the people.
To catch all the varying moods and subtle emotions of the fierce voices that bring forth poignant philosophy of "Believe I'll Run On," some adjustment to the usual tone and balance level of your stereo will probably be necessary.
This album's musical quality is sound, enhanced by each singer's deep-rooted experience and constant study of black American music.
However, it is the high quality of the album's lyrical content which makes it such a strong offering. After just one spin, newly initiated listeners and loyal fans alike will find themselves reciting lines, singing lyrics and grabbing quotes from the ablum.
Side one of this new release, which is punctuated by a stirring mrmorial to a Mississippi civil rights leader, "Fannie Lou Hammer," is a rather somber presentation of black and feminine fundamentals. By contrast, side two, headed up by the album's title cut, is a forthright look at the facts of this life on precarious planet Earth, coupled with the fervor of feminine conviction about its future.
Worthy of individual mention are the foot-stomping hand-clapping zeal of "Believe I'll Run On, See What the End's Gonna Be," a scathing condemnation of nuclear energy abuse and nuclear weapons proliferation; the sultry and spiritual, "All Praise Is Due to Love," written by Pat Johnson and reminiscent of the jazz bands' scat artists of the '40s and '50s; and "A Woman," the shortest cut but by far the most passion-filled, emotion-grabbing and haunting on the whole album. Its lusty harmony most clearly represents the magical powers that Sweet Honey In the Rock unleash in their performances.
Can such message music, uncompromising in its positions and unencumbered by instrumental accompaniment, make it in the American marketplace?
If the packed house at their recent fifth anniversary performance at All Souls Church is any indication of the grass roots enthusiasm that can be generated by their sound, then Sweet Honey In the Rock can make it and will.