Over the River & Through the Woods

Over the River & Through the Woods

by Philip BrunellePhilip Brunelle


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Among the unheralded themes of the U.S. radio program A Prairie Home Companion has been its intermittent treatment of classical music, which host Garrison Keillor seems to want to rescue from the clutches of formality. On the program itself he has featured opera singers, violin virtuosos, male quartets, college choirs, and more, all with the aim of showing the ways classical music has been and remains integrated into the fabric of American life. This two-disc release, a recording of a live event from late in the year 2004 (Keillor works in a few cracks about the re-election of President George W. Bush that fall), expands on this theme. It's a bit hard for the potential buyer to get an idea of the contents from the cover. This is not a collection of Thanksgiving songs, although Keillor's spoken material is centered on the holiday. Nor is it a Prairie Home Companion episode, although it comes complete with a monologue about Keillor's fictional Minnesota hometown of Lake Wobegon on disc two. Instead, Keillor sets gospel music, broadly defined, in juxtaposition with contemporary small-ensemble choral music, sung by the Minneapolis ensemble VocalEssence, in order to see how they bump up against each other on the same program, lubricated by Keillor's brand of homespun humor. The gospel side is taken by the so-called Hopeful Gospel Quartet, made up of Keillor himself and his frequent guests, folk singers Mollie O'Brien and Robin and Linda Williams. This group is excellent on country gospel songs like "I Am a Pilgrim," and they are familiar with the rhythms of Keillor's satires; here he adds new texts to liturgical forms such as psalms. These artists and plenty of other folk-oriented singers have sung the pieces from the African-American gospel tradition, as well, but one wonders why another Keillor collaborator, gospel vocalist Jearlyn Steele, couldn't have been included on pieces like "Pops" Staples' "You Don't Knock."" The range of pieces performed by VocalEssence is similarly wide, ranging from contemporary Finnish music to common hymns, and the kinds of harmony singing present in the program as a whole emerge as a spectrum rather than as a division. The market for this release among listeners of A Prairie Home Companion is obvious, but it may prove interesting even for listeners beyond that circle (although a basic familiarity with what Keillor does is probably necessary). The engineering of A Prairie Home Companion is another one of its unsung virtues, and the live recording here is exemplary.

Product Details

Release Date: 10/13/2009
Label: Clarion
UPC: 0040888093725
catalogNumber: 937
Rank: 78102


  1. Will the Circle Be Unbroken
  2. Goodbye to My Uncles, song
  3. Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
  4. Walking in the Spirit, song
  5. Over the River and Through the Woods, spoken monologue: Welcome
  6. For the Beauty of the Earth (tune Dix)
  7. I Am a Pilgrim, song
  8. Pursuit of Happiness, song for vocal ensemble (from "Poor Richard Madrigals")
  9. Morning has broken (Bunessan), song
  10. He's Right on Time, song
  11. Over the River and Through the Woods, spoken monologue: A Psalm
  12. Zion's Walls, song for voice & piano (Old American Songs II)
  13. Rivers of Babylon, song
  14. Nachtklänge II ("O Herbst"), for chorus
  15. Calling My Children Home
  16. Over the River and Through the Woods, spoken monologue: Another Psalm
  17. Cantata No. 207, "Vereinigte Zwietracht der wechselnden Saiten," BWV 207 (BC G37): Praise, O Praise the Great Creator
  18. Couldn't Keep It to Myself, spiritual
  19. Anthem for Thanksgiving ("O Praise the Lord of Heaven")
  20. Over the River and Through the Woods, spoken monologue: Thanksgiving Recollections
  21. Elijah (Elias), oratorio, Op. 70: Thanks Be to God (from
  22. El Hambo (Mäntyjärvi) / You Don't Knock (Staples, Westbrook) / Light from the Lighthouse (Traditional)
  23. A Thanksgiving to God, for His House, motet
  24. Over the River and Through the Woods, spoken monologue: Monologue
  25. Psalm 23 ("Gott ist mein Hirt"), for female voices & piano, D. 706 (Op. posth. 132)
  26. How Great Thou Art (Tune: O store Gud)
  27. Now Thank We All Our God
  28. Irish Heartbeat, song

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Over the River & Through the Woods 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Choral pieces from the always-excellent Vocalessence group, hymns and psalms and spiritual songs from the Hopeful Gospel Quartet and observations from Garrison Keillor all based around the subject of Thanksgiving make this an excellent listening experience for those seeking a moment of reflective time before the onslaught of the holiday season, or really anytime one is feeling thankful--or perhaps a reason to feel thankful. Most highly recommended.