Sweet Honey in the Rock – Love in Evolution
I came into this blind. I didn’t know a thing about Sweet Honey in the Rock before listening to their latest studio album, Love in Evolution, for the first time. The press materials I read promised something different. They flew off my radar for over twenty albums, Grammy nods, and even touted First Lady Michelle Obama among their biggest fans. I never knew this six-piece all-female a cappella vocal sextet had been on the front lines for so long, doing the hard work needed to make a better world for us all, while still performing and recording vital works of musical art. I didn’t even know such a musical unit could exist in this time and place. I was wrong. Gloriously wrong.
There’s no filler anywhere on the album’s eleven tracks. The opening packs a mighty combination punch as “Somebody Prayed for Me”, “The Living Waters”, and “I Don’t Want No Trouble by the River” contain such varied vocal fireworks that listeners will be forgiven feeling exhilarated by the trio’s end. Sweet Honey in the Rock does much more than merely invoke longstanding gospel and blues traditions, they revitalize them with their depth of commitment to each line and their flawless mastery of technique. The album, as a whole, does an admirable job of utilizing different stylistic voices and balances itself well between a three-part axis of blues, jazz, and gospel. The jazzier aspects come to the fore in songs like “The Living Waters” and the opening section of their Marvin Gaye cover “Mercy Mercy Me”. It’s impressive to hear them shift without even a musical blink between the cool jazz of the latter’s first half into perfectly placed, but loose, R&B peppered with a bit of funk.
The funk and R&B strains make themselves heard again in the surprising “A Prayer for the World”. It begins as another glistening a cappella effort with no additional instrumentation before the vocals playfully invite other musicians to join midway through the track. It’s inspiring to hear how the extra parts enliven and inspire an already superb group effort. Sweet Honey in the Rock surprises again with “Oh, Sankofa”. The resulting tension from them placing a jumpy, percolating tropical tempo against a detailed, almost journalistic account of a racially motivated massacre helps makes this the album’s most dramatic number. “Same ‘Ol, Same ‘Ol” has a much lighter lyrical touch, but the muscular bass gives it an uniquely driving quality for this album.
“IDK, But I LOL” is a superb, thoroughly modern track that plays with popular lexicon while still delivering an important message within a substantive musical arrangement. The vocals have a playful aspect missing from most of the songs but it never disrupts the lyrical content. Sweet Honey in the Rock end Love in Evolution with the beautifully ruminative “We Have Come This Far”, a stirring yet introspective appraisal of struggle’s value and lessons learned. It brings the album to close with the same finesse and feeling that defines it in its entirety. The breadth of the album’s musical inventiveness astounding me a great deal and this is clearly a work built to withstand repeated listens
9 out of 10 stars.