Thursday, January 22, 1998

Review - Songs of Free Men

Artist: Paul Robeson

Posted on Thu, Jan 22, 1998 at 4:00 AM

There is nothing so personal as a singer's voice. As instantly recognizable as American bass-baritone Paul Robeson's voice was, it didn't exactly belong to him. Robeson (1898-1976) was the voice of many: the downtrodden, the working class and in particular African-Americans.

This recording, covering the years 1942-1947, is rich in variety and musical breadth. There are folk songs, Negro spirituals, rousing political numbers and songs from musicals. Robeson is perhaps most widely regarded for his inky-deep, sonorous voice, but he was often most effective when he sang with quiet tenderness. He almost whispers the devotional spiritual "Balm in Gilead." His delivery of the lovely "Cradle Song" would have a baby in Morpheus' arms in seconds.

Pianist Lawrence Brown appears with the singer in most of the selections, and Robeson is accompanied by an orchestra in the other numbers. The collection also includes illuminating liner notes by his son, Paul Robeson Jr.


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