Put one of the world’s most respected bass-baritones with arguably one of America’s most historically cherished choirs and you’re bound to create bonafide magic. Such is the case with the joint efforts of these vocal behemoths on their new record Homeward Bound. The deep, yet saddened vocals of Bryn Terfel joined by the chiming support of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s is a work of genius.
Terfel’s ode to the American frontier with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s heavenly vocals is a retrospective journey through the heart. When they’re on, they’re on. Music Director of the choir, Mack Wilberg’s new arrangements are spot on with such bravado and charging force that you’ll wish it was the 4th of July everyday! With 18 songs of thunder and lightning, Homeward Bound is full of adventure and triumph that takes Terfel to dazzling heights of heroism. All the typical pages from the Americana songbook are here and performed in shining, tearful glory. Terfel brings his voice to such heart wrenching levels in “The Dying Soldier” that by the time the Mormon Tabernacle Choir arrives, it’s an all-out cryfest.
None will feel more patriotic (let alone a sense of inner reflection) after listening to “How Great Thou Art” or “When The Saints Go Marchin’ In.” With just the right amount of extending emotion from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, it will be incredibly difficult to hear Boatner’s classic in any other way.
The two biggest highlights on the record, “Home On The Range” and the title track “Homeward Bound” are almost worth the price of admission alone. Terfel’s signature “Home On The Range” performance is noted as one of his finest tear-jerkers (recently recorded with Andrea Bocelli), but could be trumped by his moving rendition of “Homeward Bound.” Terfel and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra merge in unison to create a symbolic vision of the spirit of adventure that has been longed lost. This is a legendary performance that audiences yearn for; Terfel and company deliver in grand style that won’t leave any eye dry. From Terfel’s heightened, yet somber singing and the Choir’s solemn hymns accompanied by angelic sounding flutes, “Homeward Bound” represents the journey we all walk on this Earth. Other highlights include Terfel’s duet with Tamara Mumford on Jenkins’ “Ave Verum” – an incredibly loving performance that places Terfel in the backseat to Mumford’s angelic voice.
Surprisingly with the emotional reach that the majority of the record presents, a good portion of Homeward Bound is remarkably dull and in some areas, a bit tact. Opening with “What A Wonderful World,” Terfel’s voice soars but lacks the poignancy that such a song demands, whereas the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is almost an afterthought in a lackluster arrangement. From renditions of Copland’s “Shall We Gather At The River” and Stennett’s “Bound for the Promised Land,” the passion is missing to the point of questioning why include them to begin with.
It’s not that Terfel and The Mormon Tabernacle Choir can’t deliver on the song selections less desired. Quite the contrary as their voices sync in splendid harmony. The only problem is the befuddling lack of color on these selections and how the remainder of the arrangements could be so lacking in this oversight. Homeward Bound is an example of less is more. The record is far from flawed as the shining highlights of the title track and many of the more recognizable selections rise to unbelievable heights of glory that there is no way one could be left without awe in the overall effort of Homeward Bound. There is genius here and an amazing amount of heart. Homeward Bound is one heck of an adventure, but possibly a just bit too long of a journey.
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