Show Review & Videos: Half-Handed Cloud House Show

** Guest post by Jym Davis
When I heard Half-Handed Cloud was coming to Atlanta, I was excited.  A (sometimes) one-man band, John Ringhofer only comes to town every couple of years.  When John brings his trunk of dictaphones, trombones, toy noisemakers, and felt props, I tend to drop everything and seek him out.  I was particularly intrigued when I read that Half-Handed Cloud would be playing a house show billed as a “Sacred Harp Sing-Along.”  When I heard the title “Sacred Harp,” I perked up because I associated the term with the old style of shape-note singing.

I knew a little bit about traditional shape-note singing from the revelatory documentary, “Awake, My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp” by Matt and Erica Hinton.  The film tells the story of America’s oldest form of music, a type of hymnal singing much different than anything you will hear in a modern Church sanctuary.  It is raw and forceful, and the sound, when first heard, is powerful enough to stir you very deeply.  So you can imagine I was especially excited when I discovered that Half-handed Cloud was playing in the home of the filmmakers.  Although Half-handed Cloud and shape-note singing couldn’t be more different, it occurred to me that there are some similarities:  both are deeply spiritual, reflect a joy in the Lord, might appear eccentric to the uninitiated, and, above all, are resoundingly beautiful to the ear.

Half-Handed Cloud’s set was, as a house show invites, intimate and friendly.  Listeners of all ages crowded in the living room and after a particularly upbeat version of “You’ve Been Faithful to us Clouds,” an excited youngster exclaimed, “That was fun!”  I agreed and so did the audience.  John played songs across his catalogue, from his early EP I’m So Sheepy, and his recent albums Halos and Lassos and As Stowaways in Cabinets of Surf, We Live-out in Our Members a Kind of Rebirth.

After the show I was treated to my first live listening of shape-note singing.  John joined in a couple of songs, but I stood back and took in the wave of sound.  The group of singers was almost too small to fill out the parts, but I still could have listened all night.  As I told Matt, the style of singing can be a little intimidating to a beginner participant.  At some point I hope to step forward and answer the call to sing to my heart’s delight.

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