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Lifeline: Music of the Underground Railroad

12-05-2019 | By Robert H. Levi | Issue 107

Yarlung Records is always full of surprises, and Lifeline: Music of the Underground Railroad is no exception. Bob Attiyeh, award winning President of the label, brought it to my attention, explaining its unique and extraordinary meaning. Bob’s tastes are broader and generally superior to mine, and his recommendations always pan out. His hands-on recording techniques, minimalist use of tube microphones, and analog tape recording produce a consistent you-are-there presentation that one must take seriously.

I listened, my ears immersed in this album over and over and heard more nuance and beauty with each play. Just knowing the significance of these spirituals for unaccompanied voices was road maps and directions coded in music for slaves on the run to Canada before and during the Civil War made it unreal and poignant. These pieces will move you in ways you cannot know until you listen to them. 

Wait until you hear "Steal Away," a plea to slaves to attempt escape, filled with melodious beauty and special lyrics. Recorded live in a single unedited session, voices are rounded and palpable in perfect imaging on a virtual stage in your listening room. The applause surrounds you as part of Yarlung's proprietary passive surround system hidden in the front two channels. No decoder is needed. Astounding.

"Wade in the Water" again suggests how to ford the streams and rivers. With just four voices, a choral sound suggesting eight voices emerges with energy and dimension giving the listener the sense of real life in real space. I am an audiophile, and Lifeline is a reference album of the highest level. Bob Attiyeh and his team demonstrate taste levels of the highest order. 

I was most gratified by how superbly alive Lifeline is produced by my system. I used a 24-bit/88kHz download, which sounded equal to any of my first-rate DSD albums of similar solo voices. Goes to show you that recording skills are as important as album content...maybe more. My E.A.R. DAC 4 supplied mellifluous textures while my Marten Bird Speakers brought home the bacon. If you do not hear lifelike palpability with Lifeline, time to tube roll!

My favorite cut? "Don't Let Nobody Turn You Around." You just want to sing along and cry.

Lifeline is available on exceptional EU produced gold substrate CD for $19.99 from Yarlung

Records, or you can buy downloads from HDTracks | DSD | Amazon | Spotify | Apple.

A must own reference quality recording. Music "A," Recording "A+."


Yarlung will also be producing 180-gram 45 RPM high-end vinyl cut by Bernie Grundman and badged with the highest recommendation of the Los Angeles and Orange County Audio Society. This is great news!

Album description from Yarlung Records:

"...Michelle Mayne-Graves, Mike Fitzgerald, Quinton Fitzgerald and Walter Penniman created Lifeline, their first Yarlung live concert recording project at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa.  

Michell and her Lifeline Quartet speak truth with their singing. Michelle’s magical arrangements honor Harriet Tubman and the countless unnamed heroes who helped slaves flee the South to find freedom in the Northern States and Canada.

Human slavery, part of human history from the beginnings of our civilizations on earth, remains one of the worst aspects of our story on this planet. We live with the wounds from slavery every day, particularly in the United States, where African slaves powered the plantation industries in the South before the Civil War. These wounds heal over time, but with scar tissue. More than 150 years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation declaring the end of slavery in the South, inequality of opportunity and achievement for people from different ethnic backgrounds remains a serious problem in modern society.

Lifeline: Music of the Underground Railroad celebrates spirituals from the Civil War era and before. Escape routes to the North were nicknamed "The Underground Railroad," and Tubman was one of its most celebrated "conductors." As she is reported to have said, "I never ran my train off the track and I never lost a passenger." This program celebrates some of the spirituals that were adopted by the Underground Railroad and served as memory aids and morale boosters for escaping slaves. In addition to their religious content, these spirituals contained hidden clues and navigational instructions and are therefore known as code songs. Harriet Tubman herself was reputed to use Wade in the Water to remind escaping slaves where they should walk in rivers and streams to avoid the scent hounds of the slave catchers."

Yarlung Records

8721 Santa Monica Boulevard #111

Los Angeles, CA  90069


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