The history of the Land of the Free can be traced in song. Long before they signed the Declaration of Independence, long before Stephen Foster embraced the nation with his simple home-truths, and long after the American parlour song passed beyond the picket fence to the great outdoors yonder, there were the hymns, the folk ditties, the revivalist chants, the fireside fondants, the back-porch lullabies. And what was passing fancy became Art.
Jennifer Larmore has chosen with care. It feels like a personal choice, sung with personal concern. Whether it’s recast traditional or homegrown original or something altogether loftier, this young woman from Atlanta, Georgia, seems to know where it’s coming from. She’s not afraid to override the songs a little, pushing the interest and intensity to the point where maybe it becomes a little too public. But American song is nothing if not outspoken and this is a full, ripe, outspoken voice.
For the rest, the unfamilar are among the richest pickings. Jake Heggie (born in 1961 and living in San Francisco) has the first word with his setting of a traditional text
But ultimately, there is Samuel Barber, up there where he belongs with the very best that song – any song – has to offer. His two James Joyce settings, I hear an army and Rain has fallen are stunning, the former vivid, vehement, the latter defined by an inconsolable and very particular melancholy, culminating in a furious piano cadenza that says more about frustration and despair than even Joyce’s text. Antoine Palloc plays it here with an awareness and strength of purpose that mark out his contributions throughout the disc. And, of course, there is Sure on this shining night – as fine a song about wonder and the infinite as I know. James Agee’s text is one of nine reproduced in the beautifully illustrated booklet. Would it have been such a tall order to reproduce all 30 texts? Good as Larmore’s diction is, we do need them. '