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Album review: Holy Hootenanners’ old-time gospel sound worth picking up

The Holy Hootenanners' album “It’s Time to Let it Go”

The country-church gang is at it, again. Only a year after their debut album, Mahtowa’s Holy Hootenanners are back with a follow-up, “It’s Time to Let it Go.” As one might expect of an album that comes hot on the heels of another, the sound and approach basically are the same, but the Holy Hoots have made an album that betters their first. It’s more assured, more impactful and a more reliable collection all around.

As it was with their debut, this new Holy Hoots album takes a kind of mixtape approach, where each track is led by a different member than the track before. Rather than one or two lead singers, the Hoots have seven or eight. The songs, too, are written by lots of different folks (usually, they correspond with who is singing lead), and there are several traditional numbers, too. But rather than the record sounding like it’s scattered, it’s cohesive. At its core, there are always the stacked harmonies of the 11-piece group, which is the glue that holds it all together.

The record hits an early peak with the Colleen Myhre-penned title track. The tune — which is one of the collection’s least overtly Christian — is a dreamy, pulsing song that flows gradually into a climax. Here, Myhre belts out “It’s time to let it go!” at the top of her lungs, while her bandmates support with soaring choral backing vocals.

“Passing Through” is written and sung by Brooke Anderson, and it’s a gently funky number with surprising horns and a stand-up bass break, as well as some Fender Rhodes that dresses the whole thing up nicely. Anderson’s voice is at times a little too tentative to knock the song completely out of the park, but it’s an enjoyable stand-up double, nonetheless.

Jeff Gilbertson sings his “My Grandfather’s Song,” a waltzy number in which Gilbertson’s huskier-James-Taylor vocal is the focal point — though the track also is decorated with some tinkling mandolins and distant organ washes. Here, Caleb Anderson sings the traditional gospel “We’ll Understand it By and By,” which gains speed as it goes along and boasts a snappy guitar break.

As before, Myhre’s spotlight tracks are the main highlights. Her voice is strong but also warbly, giving her a kind of Dolly Parton-meets-Stevie Nicks sound at points. “Eyes on the Prize” features her exhorting her bandmates to match her intensity. “Here we go, Hoots!” she shouts, before sliding into a chorus. (Caleb Anderson plays excellent piano on this one, too.)

Another high-water-mark here is Erin Langhorst’s lead vocal on “Just a Little Talk with Jesus,” the traditional gospel song. Her voice has this great lilt to it, and her tone is smoky and appealing. And it’s hard to not like “Church in the Wildwood,” which is sung by “the Hoot Kids,” which is what it sounds like: a bunch of the Hoots’ offspring getting their own track.

In all, “It’s Time to Let it Go” is another collection of compelling music from the Mahtowa church collective. As was the case with their last album, it’s tough to get completely behind it if you don’t happen to share the religious beliefs of the band. There are some songs that veer close to secular music, while others are overtly Jesus-centric. But the quality of the singin’, playin’ and recordin’ are undeniable.

If you’ve got a need for some old-time gospel, “It’s Time to Let it Go” is worth picking up.

Tony Bennett reviews music for the News Tribune. He can be reached at tonybennettreviews@gmail.com.

Artist: The Holy Hootenanners

Album: “It’s Time to Let it Go”

Recorded by Rich Mattson at Sparta Sound

Website: www.facebook.com/holyhoots

Personnel: Donita Korpela (vocals), Erin Langhorst (vocals), Zach Langhorst (guitar, vocals), Colleen Myhre (guitar, vocals), Jeff Gilbertson (guitar, bass, brass, vocals), Doug Soukkala (lead guitar, vocals), Brooke Anderson (mandolin, vocals), Caleb Anderson (piano, vocals), Lyric Lekander (banjo, vocals), John Zymslony (banjo, vocals), Luke Lekander (drums, vocals)

Upcoming show: 2 p.m. Sunday at the Carlton County Fair, 3770 Front St., Barnum, Minnesota

Tickets: $7 at the gate, $3 for under 12, Free for 5 and younger

Click here to listen to “It’s Time to Let it Go."

Tony Bennett reviews music for the News Tribune. He can be reached at tonybennettreviews@gmail.com.

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