Lara Downes casts a wide net on beautiful album ‘America Again’
Arriving like a balm for a country riven by disunion, “America Again,” Lara Downes’s new solo piano album, casts a wide net in search of the elusive yet distinctive American spirit. The album takes its name from Langston Hughes’s famous 1938 plea: “Let America be America again/Let it be the dream it used to be.” In that spirit, Downes gathers a deliberately inclusive set of composers — black and white, men and women, straight and gay, new and (relatively) old. Many of the highlights lie among the more obscure works, such as Florence Price’s effusively ornamented “Fantasie Negre,” Amy Beach’s capering “From Blackbird Hills,” and Lou Harrison’s sweetly sentimental “New York Waltzes.” Newer glimpses of the American soul include the bluesy “Nocturne” from Dan Visconti’s “Lonesome Roads” and David Sanford’s plaintive “Promise.” For those in need of a dose of perspective, there are gorgeous performances of “Shenandoah” and “Deep River,” songs deep in the American fabric that remind one of both the nation’s history and, by extension, its resiliency. Downes’s playing is evocative and resonant, like the country whose character she conjures so ably. Listen, and hear America singing.