It seems as if vocal connoisseurs are always lamenting the imminent demise of the art of classical singing. On the basis of this disc such doomsaying is seriously misplaced. Nathan Gunn is a young American baritone who has created quite a stir in the past few years, much of it for the wrong reasons. Not that there is anything undesirable in an opera singer having handsome looks and a physique that reduced even the staid New York Times to babbling about underwear modeling. What has to be said is that Gunn has the musical goods in abundance as well. His voice, while not huge in live performance, is darkly beautiful in timbre and takes most happily to recording. He also has, on the evidence of his notes to this eclectic collection of American song, an intelligent and thoughtful musical mind.
The music on this disc traverses the gamut of things American, from familiar art songs, to crossover ballads, to folk song arrangements and patriotic lyrics. Familiar names from "serious" music such as Barber, Rorem, Copland and Ives rub shoulders with more popularly oriented composers such as Gorney, Scheer and Bolcom. Gunn sings it all with a seemingly endless flow of beautiful sound, sensitivity to words and changing moods, and above all, evident love of the music. He encompasses the biting humor of "Black Max (Bolcom)," the bluesy lament of "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime (Gorney)," the grandiosity of "General William Booth Enters into Heaven (Ives)" and the tenderness of "Sure on this Shining Night (Barber)" with equal ease. With such a refulgent top voice, it is understandable that one or two keys seem to have been chosen to display high notes rather than for ideal ease of expression and diction. Also, pianist Kevin Murphy, while accurate and sensitive, frequently seems less than fully engaged in the music making. This may be a fault of the somewhat distant recording ambiance which keeps the piano decidely in the background. Still, these are quibbles. Nathan Gunn, the American song, and most important, the art of singing all emerge as winners on this superb album.