It isn’t easy to describe the haunting harmony that opens “Now I Am Redeemed,” one of LaTresa & the Signal’s most evocative and rousing tracks on their third official album, The Blood and the River. There are no drums. No guitar. No blustery bassline to frame this exquisite vocal melody. Voices, like those of some angelic choir, come alive with a charming glow that is enough to bring even the hardest hearts of stone to their knees inside of two minutes and forty six seconds. When I sat down for my virgin experience with this record, this was the first song that I listened to, and it didn’t take much more than a cursory examination of its tender but firm aesthetical bones for me to determine that The Blood and the River is unquestionably LaTresa & the Signal’s finest hour to date.
LaTresa’s vocal is the star of the show in every one of these songs, but the Signal holds up their end of the bargain with an aggressive instrumental atmosphere that mixes bluegrass with soft southern gospel music. “Lazarus” grabs us right off the bat with its achy melody, while “The Valley with My Lord” is a little more methodical in its mischievous, bassline-driven beat. The Blood and the River is an LP that gets more and more engrossing as we wander its tracklist, and whether we’re listening to it on shuffle or straight through as was intended by the band, the music remains stimulating and nuanced with a startlingly progressive aesthetic.
The master mix here is super-physical, and it’s definitely one of the more meticulously designed that I’ve analyzed this month. It’s obvious that there was a lot of work put into making the smaller, more subtle details as emphasized in the big picture as the more prominent features are, making particularly complicated compositions like “Where Angels Abide (Russell’s Song),” “The Mountain,” the title track and the awesomely inspirational “Would You Walk with Jesus” feel and sound like movements in a symphony of bluegrass. In more ways than one, The Blood and the River has the essence of an unscripted live performance, but there’s a masterfully keen attention to detail that prevents it from devolving into eccentricities that would best be left outside of modern gospel music.
If you love bluegrass, gospel and all of the American acoustic music in between, you can consider LaTresa & the Signal’s The Blood and the River to be a must-listen this summer. In these original compositions, we’re offered the chance to connect with a piece of our collective history as Americans of faith that is quintessential to the evolution of modern country, bluegrass and folk, but this LP doesn’t sound like a tired old history lesson by any stretch of imagination. We’re beholden to confessions, praise, reflection and a healthy dose of old fashioned love in LaTresa & the Signal’s third album and its twelve unique songs, and though they’ve got some serious competitors in the gospel scene at the moment, they’re demonstrating a talent that is simply too urbane for any of us to ignore here.