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Yende’s ‘Journey’ inspiring – Shires explores meaning of home

This cover image released by Sony Classical shows ‘A Journey’, a release by Pretty Yende. (AP)
This cover image released by Sony Classical shows ‘A Journey’, a release by Pretty Yende. (AP)
Pretty Yende, “A Journey” (Sony Classical)

What’s not to love about Pretty Yende? Her voice is delightful, her personality sparkles, and her story is inspiring.

Just 31, Yende has gone from life in a South African township to stardom on the world’s opera stages. Now her first album, titled “A Journey,” documents her impressive lyric abilities, her lustrous tone and especially her mastery of coloratura. Runs and trills are tossed off with seeming ease, and she can soar to a high E natural without sounding strained.

The seven selections, mostly bel canto arias by Rossini, Donizetti or Bellini, reflect stages of her story, triumphs in vocal competitions or important debuts. She sounds lovely, with one reservation: There’s a slightly generic quality to her singing, a lack of interpretive depth beyond mastery of the notes.

In keeping with her personal narrative, she includes the “Flower Duet” from Delibes’ “Lakme,” with mezzo Kate Aldrich as partner. It’s by now part of Pretty Yende lore that her interest in opera was sparked by hearing the tune in a British Airways TV commercial when she was 16.

Amanda Shires, “My Piece of Land” (BMG)

Amanda Shires has a fine sense of humor, which may be why a single measure at the start of “My Piece of Land” is propelled by handclaps. They seem odd and out of place, but funny.

Soon enough we’re on to the main attraction, which is Shires’ voice — a distinctive, delicate alto with an uncanny quaver that punctuates the end of a phrase. Her approach is bend but don’t break, like a good NFL defense.

It’s the voice of a performer fully invested in her material, and the 10 songs on “My Piece of Land” warrant such commitment. She wrote them all, with help on two from her husband, fellow singer-songwriter Jason Isbell.

The material explores the many definitions of home, and also love, lust and loss. There’s not an ounce of flab in the 34-minute set, and varied musical approaches make it seem even shorter.

Tom Brosseau, “North Dakota Impressions” (Crossbill)

Wheat fields, storm clouds, remote crossroads and family graveyard plots fill folk singer Tom Brosseau’s songs, creating a landscape of loneliness. While that last word is never sung, it’s often implied, but even so, “North Dakota Impressions” makes for good company.

Brosseau’s latest album completes a trilogy inspired by memory, and although he’s now based in Los Angeles, these songs focus on his native state. There’s beauty in the details, whether they’re grass clippings on the sidewalk or an old ballfield scoreboard. “No one is out,” Brosseau notes.

He’s mindful of the big picture, too. His vivid memories include faded love, making the tug of home and her complicated. There’s also the gravel road not traveled, and Brosseau wrestles with embracing or erasing the past.

“My home is the abyss, and I know I won’t be missed,” he sings on “Fit to be Tied.”

By Mike Silverman

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