Picks and Pans Review: The Soul of Chant

UPDATED 05/22/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/22/1995 at 01:00 AM EDT

The Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo de Silos

The Benedictine monks at the remote Spanish monastery of Santo Domingo de Silos watched last year's Gregorian-chant craze with mixed emotions. Nice to have an audience of 6 million record buyers and to be so hot that the "Benzedrine Monks of Santo Domonica" release a chant parody. Not so pleasant to watch while the record company that owns the rights to the medieval chants revived by your monastery markets them to New Agers, who snap up the album as a mood-music compromise between grunting whales and the John Tesh oeuvre.

Now the monks are back, with a different record company and a better album. Like last year's Chant, this record draws on decades-old tapes made at the Spanish abbey, but the sound is better—less tape hiss, improved acoustics—and the packaging not so...secular.

From the cover artwork (a delicate Fra Angelico angel instead of cloud-hopping monks) to the scholarly—albeit badly translated—liner notes on the Catholic mass (five versions are performed here), this album is meant to restore Gregorian chant to its proper context. The monks' voices, gently colored by an organ accompaniment, admirably reflect the music's calm, ethereal beauty.

Crystal caressers can certainly still get their bliss tickets punched by The Soul of Chant, but now listeners interested in the historical and religious meaning of plainsong, initially collected and organized in the 6th century at the instruction of Pope Saint Gregory I, have been invited to join the Silos monks' chorus of fans. (Milan/JADE)

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