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CAMBRIDGE — The Sacred Shakers haven’t been much of a going concern lately, a situation abetted by the fact that a number of the group’s members no longer live in the Boston area. So it was a treat to see them regroup for a few shows recently, and even more of a pleasure to see them congregate Thursday for a show being recorded for an upcoming CD.
If the Shakers were rusty, it hardly showed. A rehearsal show two nights earlier helped to shake that, and a “do-over” set that followed two hours of music allowed them second takes on songs they judged not up to snuff the first time through. There were a couple of false starts during the main set’s two hours, too. But those were impositions of the recording process. They sounded in vintage form.
As always, their well was the gospel side of old country, blues, bluegrass, and old-time music. This night, we heard songs from the likes of the Swan Silvertones, the fantastic Bessie Jones, Gid Tanner, Johnny Cash, and, of course, the ubiquitous Public Domain (and one simpatico ringer — Lucinda Williams’s “Get Right With God,” from her 2001 release “Essence”).
Some numbers had long been a part of the Shakers’ repertoire; others were, as Eilen Jewell put it, “new to their family.” As always, their approach was rooted in collaboration, with five of the eight members alternating lead vocals and combining for spine-tingling, often a cappella harmonies. Greg Glassman also offered up some sweet falsetto singing on “I’m Tired.”
The band’s singular sound came across in full force — sometimes (as in “Satan, Your Kingdom Must Come Down” and “How Long?”) a spectral mix of Daniel Kellar’s violin drone, Jason Beek’s malleted drums, and Jerry Miller’s reverbed guitar, and other times (as in “Morning Train” and “Samson and Delilah”) a joyous careen fueled by Miller's pyrotechnics and Eric Royer’s banjo twang.
They put their own rocking spin on the standard “I Am a Pilgrim,” and their uptempo, joy-filled take on Fred McDowell’s “You Got to Move” brought out the gospel, forsaking the blues aspect of the song, to great effect. An almost rueful-sounding reworking of Porter Wagoner’s “Satisfied Mind,” led by Jewell’s singing, was equally marvelous. And when she took the lead to deliver another moment of still grace via Hazel Dickens’s rawbone-country “Won't You Come and Sing For Me,” the beautiful evocation of congregation through song seemed to fit what the Shakers had going on.
Stuart Munro can be reached at email@example.com.