Album review: "Voice of My Beautiful Country"
Jazz vocalist Rene Marie drew criticism in 2008 for replacing the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner” with James Weldon Johnson’s African American anthem “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” at a civic performance in Denver. “Voice of My Beautiful Country,” a broad collection of time-honored American tunes, is her response to the incident.
Based on her sweeping song selections, Marie’s aim is to celebrate the melodic melting pot that is the musical history of the United States. To that end, she basically succeeds.
“O Shenandoah” carries a dynamic arrangement that, when tackled by Marie’s powerhouse voice, sounds as triumphant as one might hope. “Angelitos Negros” and Grace Slick’s “White Rabbit” nod to the musical contributions of Latino culture and ’70s counterculture. And the light, layered refrain of the Temptations’ “Just My Imagination” pays due homage to Motown.
But with the exception of “John Henry,” a traditional song that Marie complements with gritty, engaging vocals, her selections — undisputed classics in their own right — aren’t revelatory, largely following the trail already blazed by greats such as Ray Charles. This is most evident on “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” a straightforward, bluesy rendition that, while easy on the ears, doesn’t necessarily contribute anything to American musical discourse.
— Jess Righthand, July 1, 2011