How Sweet the Sound
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Countertenor Darryl Taylor, who teaches at the University of California at Irvine, faces strong competition with this disc of African-American spirituals; the spiritual has had what might be described as a few flowerings, and even in the countertenor sphere there exists a superb recording of spirituals by Derek Lee Ragin. Taylor apparently realized he had to do something to stand out from the crowd, and he has largely succeeded in doing so. His chief innovations lie in the variety of arrangements he brings to the program, and even more in the way he welds them together into a coherent sequence. Whereas most classical singers have relied on the work of a few arrangers, Taylor incorporates voice-and-piano version from Harry T. Burleigh to Moses Hogan, with several unusual items by George Walker, Maria Thompson Corley, Jacqueline Hairston, and others. The result is a variety of treatments that range from impressionistic settings to classic readings shaped by the folk spiritual idiom to contemporary experiments. Onto this range Taylor superimposes a loose emotional sequence running from despondency to spiritual renewal, and thence to Christ's birth ("Go Tell It on the Mountain") and crucifixion (the agonizing Hogan version of "He Never Said a Mumblin' Word"). It's one of the few spirituals recordings (that of Barbara Hendricks is another) to carry a sense of ongoing connected drama. Taylor has also been active as a tenor; as a countertenor he has a powerful top and an eerie bottom in "He Never Said a Mumblin' Word." There are a few holes in between, but that pales beside his accomplishments here. Strongly recommended. ~James Manheim, Rovi