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AMERICAN ANTHEM
Denyce Graves, soprano
1. American Anthem Performed By String Quartet, David Perry, Denyce Graves
2. America the Beautiful Performed By String Quartet, David Perry, Denyce Graves
3. Star-Spangled Banner Performed By Boston Pops Orchestra, Tanglewood Festival Chorus
4. Fanfare for the Common Man Performed By San Francisco Symphony Orchestra
5. Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing Performed By Boston Gay Men's Chorus, Boston Pops Gospel Choir, Boston Pops Orchestra, Tanglewood Festival Chorus
6. Shenandoah Performed By Boston Pops Orchestra
7. America Performed By RCA Victor Orchestra
8. Variations on a Shaker Melody ("Simple Gifts") 9. God Bless America Performed By RCA Victor Orchestra, Florence Kopleff, Raymond Murcell
10. He's Got the Whole World in His Hands Performed By Franz Rupp, Marian Anderson
11. Battle Hymn of the Republic Performed By RCA Victor Orchestra, Thomas Pyle
12. From a Distance Performed By Galway Pops Orchestra, James Galway, Vincent Fanuele
13. Alleluia 14. Amazing Grace Performed By Richard Stoltzman, Irma Vallecillo
15. Lord's Prayer Performed By String Quartet, David Perry, Denyce Graves Rec: Unspecified.
RCA RED SEAL 63888 [60.04]

The September 11 terrorist attack on New York and Washington DC changed the world in many ways. One of these changes is the new-found patriotism that Americans are displaying - from flag-waving to gun-buying, Americans seem to have discovered a powerful, profound feeling for their country. As a native New Yorker who has lived overseas for almost two decades, I watch this display with a combination of surprise, astonishment and fear. That a country built on liberty decides to flout its founding values, those inscribed in the Constitution, and curtail civil liberties for many people in the name of greater security, is a truly frightening event.

In the wake of the September 11 attack, many discs, books and other media products were released (this one on November 6, 2001, which means that it was made pretty quickly). While not totally cynical, I shudder at the number of products that bear a label, as this disc does, saying "proceeds from the sale of this CD will be donated to the American Red Cross". Far be it from me to criticize any such operation, but this label neither says "all proceeds" nor any specific amount.

This CD contains 15 "classic" American songs, from the Star Spangled Banner to America the Beautiful, by way of such classics as Shenandoah, America and God Bless America. Adorned with a sepia-toned picture of a white clapboard chapel, bearing the American flag on its steeple, this is as American as apple pie.

All of these songs are the type of light music you hear at half time of the Super Bowl, in school assemblies or at county fairs all across the United States. Musically, they are undemanding and familiar - nary an American over the age of 40 could not sing along with most of them. Denyce Graves does have a compelling voice, though - one of the powerful gospel voices that carries the music and gives it true energy. But the selection is far too banal to be of interest.

Many other famous classical performers (read, the ones people not interested in classical music are familiar with: James Galway, the Boston Pops, Robert Shaw, Marian Anderson) are present on this disc. One is surprised by those not included; how could such a disc be made without John Williams or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Nevertheless, there is one performance that makes it all almost worthwhile. When Marian Anderson sings Heís Got the Whole World in His Hands, one can truly forget the rest and be overcome by the melody and Andersonís fine voice. This subtle performance, with only a piano accompanying Anderson, is an example of folk music at its best.

Perhaps Iíve been away from America too long to appreciate what this CD represents. Or, perhaps my being away lets me see what it truly shows. Sure, these are all classic songs; each one on its own has a certain resonance. But I cannot picture sitting in a living room and listening to the Star Spangled Banner and the Battle Hymn of the Republic. This is the stuff of school bands, the CD for you if you need to have a disc of American hymns to play at the next Tupperware party or NRA meeting.

Kirk McElhearn

 


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