Guitarist Christopher Parkening and baritone Jubilant Sykes sometimes perform together at the church they attend in Southern California, and their collaboration on this CD grew out of that connection. (Subtitled "A Musical Journey Through Brazil, Spain and the Americas," the album does traverse that territory, but also includes a Turkish-influenced piece by an Italian composer.) The repertoire is perplexingly eclectic, ranging from a straightforward arrangement of "My Country, 'Tis of Thee," to spirituals, to guitar solos by Villa-Lobos, Rodrigo, and Castelnuevo-Tedesco. The CD gives the performers equal billing, but Sykes performs on just more than half of the tracks.
For the most part, these are not virtuoso pieces, but Parkening's subtle and expressive playing is masterful, and Andrew York's "Jubilation," Rodrigo's "Cançoneta," Castelnuevo-Tedesco's "La Arrulladora," and especially Carlo Domeniconi's "Koyumbaba" are standouts. For Sykes, who has sung at the Met and the Deutsche Oper Berlin, this is more obviously a crossover album, and assessing his singing is a difficult job. He brings an appropriate grittiness to some of the Spanish songs rooted in popular music, which feels at odds with his highly trained, bel canto delivery. The clash is less obvious in the more "classical" pieces -- the spirituals and several of Copland's Old American Songs, but the neither-fish-nor-fowl quality is still disconcerting. What can be said without ambiguity is that he brings real passion and commitment to the songs, and for some listeners, that blazing sincerity may be enough to make the album fully satisfying. The sound is exceptionally well-balanced and clean, except for the last track: a guitar solo with a high noise level, made at a live performance.