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If, like me, you had neither heard of, nor listened to, The Holy Gasp before, the mere thought of approaching this album would be to expect something spiritually inclined. After all an ensemble called The Holy Gasp… well, what other kind of music would the ensemble make? Moreover, the album is titled … and the Lord Hath Taken Away, a direct quote from The Book of Job, of the Bible’s Old Testament spoken by the afflicted man himself at the height of his long suffering.
However, as it turns out, the ensemble’s frontman, Toronto-born poet, composer and vocalist of repute, Benjamin Hackman – knowledgeable as he as about scripture – is also a wonderfully free-thinking musician who can wield his impressive tenor voice and move easily between a kind of opera recitative, he’s-a-jolly-good-fellow klezmer, moaning blues-inflected vocals and any other style that his extraordinary music demands.
Hackman’s multi-faceted skills and this shape-shifting music are eloquently articulated by the musicians in this large ensemble. And it is all held together as if in an enormous musical sculpture by the extraordinary Robert W. Stevenson who conducts it all. To experience a snapshot version simply skip from the darkening of The Merry Man of Uz to Who Framed Moishe Hackman? to the rollicking Everything Where It Should Be. But do that and you will be missing out on 15 other songs, each with its own evocative mystery and musical thrill.