Thursday, January 14, 2010

Freedom's Soul - Jonathan Blanchard

Jonathan Blanchard
Freedom’s Soul
Blanchard Music Group 2009

In 2005, classically-trained bass vocalist Jonathan Blanchard recorded And the Spirit Moved, a live recital of spirituals rendered with all of the pomp and gravity of a William Warfield or Paul Robeson program. The young man has even portrayed Robeson in a one-man show.

Turn the clock ahead four years, and the Memphian’s new CD, Freedom’s Soul, is nothing like And the Spirit Moved. In many respects, it is his personal What’s Going On.

Much like the late Marvin Gaye’s bold musical experiment in 1971, Freedom’s Soul delivers its sharp two-minute warning to humankind by wrapping its message in a variety of attractive and digestible styles. Here, it is delivered by energetic vocalists, poets, rappers and musicians, Blanchard among them. Thumping R&B, hip hop, jazz and classical music become musical bedfellows in the movement. A reggae-propelled “Go Down Moses” interpolates Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” with fascinating effectiveness. Blanchard’s Moses doesn’t just go down, he smacks down.

A sprinkling of sorrow spirituals and an appearance by “Old Man River” offer an historical perspective for the project’s head-shaking, finger-shaking and ultimate hope for a world wrenched out of orbit by wars, injustice and regular people not taking responsibility for their own actions. Blanchard’s majestic bass voice is in full flower on “Motherless Child” and “Deep River,” the latter a quintessential spiritual for those gifted with a low register.

Tape-recorded interviews of Blanchard family members discussing their participation in the Civil Rights movement or offering viewpoints on the world today are used as interstitials. The reminiscences and points of view are important but because the interviewees are often fighting with ambient noise, they can be hard to make out at times. The snippets would have benefited from more editing for clarity and tightness.

On Freedom’s Soul, Jonathan Blanchard makes us wanna holler, throw up both our hands, but in the end helps us get by with a little help from his friends.

Four of Five Stars

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