From Sting, Billy Joel, and Tom Waits to W.H. Auden, James Joyce and Jimmy van Heusen, Just Before Sunrise is a collection of romantic and intimate songs of today. Musically capturing the in-between time before sunrise,... more » Nathan Gunn sings music for life s special moments and offers a musical reflection on the soul and spirit of one of today's finest singers.« less
From Sting, Billy Joel, and Tom Waits to W.H. Auden, James Joyce and Jimmy van Heusen, Just Before Sunrise is a collection of romantic and intimate songs of today. Musically capturing the in-between time before sunrise, Nathan Gunn sings music for life s special moments and offers a musical reflection on the soul and spirit of one of today's finest singers.
"What's Nathan Gunn to do? The baritone has taken the opera world by storm with his deluxe voice and what one reviewer called his "Calvin Klein physique." He's more than earned his artistic stripes with stellar performances in roles from Mozart to Britten. But he'd like to do even more to popularize the art he so obviously loves.
Half a century ago it would have been easy. Gunn's voice, looks and acting chops would have taken him to the movies, in big-budget adaptations of Broadway musicals. But the vehicles that sustained the careers of John Raitt, Howard Keel and Gordon McRae are long gone. Instead, he's issued this CD (not, by the way, his solo debut, which was the admirable "American Anthem" on EMI), which presents fifteen songs of varying popular styles. Although only a few ("Polka Dots and Moonbeams," for example) are what might be called standards, they all end up rather sounding like such on this smoothly sung, elaborately arranged production.
There's no doubt about the continuing allure of Gunn's dark, velvety voice, thoughtfully lightened and made more casual as befits this repertory, or the skill of the many supporting artists involved. Nor can the baritone be accused of condescending to the music: Billy Joel's "And So It Goes" in particular is sung with a touching simplicity. However, ultimately "Just Before Sunrise" doesn't begin to succeed in bridging the current chasm between classical and popular music. Nathan Gunn's fans (of which I am certainly one) will remain loyal, and he might win a few more who also like the popera albums of Andrea Bocelli and Josh Groban. I'm still dreaming of a Broadway revival of R & H's "Carousel," in which Gunn would be perfectly cast as Billy Bigelow. Now there would be a real way to broaden his audience. (Incidentally, a bona fide current Broadway star, Kristin Chenoweth, sings a welcome contribution on one track.)"
The Art of the Gunn Returns Triumphantly to the Popular Genr
Ed Uyeshima | San Francisco, CA USA | 08/14/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It amazes me that a singer of Nathan Gunn's caliber has taken eight years to follow up on his promising 1999 debut recital disc, American Anthem. In the meantime, he has conquered the world's opera stages in roles as diverse as Guglielmo in Mozart's "Così fan tutte" and Clyde Griffiths in Tobias Picker's adaptation of Theodore Dreiser's "An American Tragedy". On his 2007 recital release, Gunn seems intent on showcasing himself as a throwback to an earlier time when stalwart singers like Howard Keel and Gordon MacRae dominated the type of musical the Hollywood studios have long since forsaken. I don't blame him since his program represents some beautiful, off-the-beaten-path music in a decidedly intimate setting. With his matinee idol looks and strapping physique (used to great advantage in elaborate productions of Benjamin Britten's "Billy Budd" and Sergei Prokofiev's "War and Peace"), Gunn is quite a presence onstage, and his challenge has always been to match that on recordings. Here he succeeds.
The versatile baritone deliberately scales back his sizable voice to fit the warmer contours of these meticulously selected songs. Even though he is quite accomplished in the opera world, there is not a single aria to be heard on this disc. Instead, songs from the likes of Sting (a heartfelt take on "The Secret Marriage" from 1987's Nothing Like the Sun), Billy Joel (the touching "And So It Goes" from 1989's Storm Front), and Tom Waits (the madrigal-like "The Briar and the Rose" and the lithe, rolling waltz of "Innocent When You Dream"), are included here. From his folk-oriented first disc, Gunn returns to the works of composer Gene Scheer for three exceptional compositions - the melodramatic "Say Anything", the cabaret chestnut "Jam Tart", and the comparatively swoon-worthy title tune. Broadway baby Kristin Chenoweth makes a surprisingly supple and compatible duet partner on the snappy and all-too-brief jewel, "It Feels Like Home", by John Bucchino.
Ben Moore, who contributed heavily to soprano Deborah Voight's debut recital disc in 2005, provides the sweeping music for three pieces - the profoundly somber "When You Are Old and Gray" set to a poem by William Butler Yeats and two set to poems by James Joyce, the haunting "In the Dark Pine-Wood" and the quietly majestic "This Heart That Flutters". Gunn's singing is likely at its purest on Joseph Thalken's two unadorned ballads, "Time", written with Barry Kleinbort, and the brief concluding track, "I Have Loved Hours at Sea", written with Sara Teasdale. The singer is at his most uninhibited and animated on Charles Hart and David Cullen's über-romantic "The Dance of Love" and at his relaxed on the cheery Jimmy Van Heusen-Johnny Burke classic, "Polka Dots and Moonbeams", an unabashedly romantic tribute to his wife. Overall, this may not show off Gunn's vocal talent to its fullest extent, but it does show how comfortable he is in the popular genre without the contrivance one would expect from such an ambitious crossover effort."
An honest try, but this is pretty square
Santa Fe Listener | Santa Fe, NM USA | 09/29/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"You never know when classical crossover will work and when it won't. Nathan Gunn's voice is as suave and creamy as Thomas Hampson's, and he's nowhere near as mannered as Hampson often is when he attempts Broadway tunes. But somehow this CD doesn't strike sparks, in large part because Gunn is rhythmically stiff and emotionally square. When Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth jumps in for a few bars, one winces at the contrast between her natural feeling for pop and Gunn's bland imitation. I listened to the whole album, but one sample -- Billy Joel's "And So It Goes" --was embarrassing enough to kill all pleasure. Gunn has become the poster boy for "opera singers who go to the gym," but he doesn't play on his sexy media image. If anything, he should. These flat renditions need a lot mroe sexiness than he gives them with vocalism alone."
Smooth as silk!
P. Goodman | Connecticut, USA | 09/29/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Having seen Nathan Gunn on the stage of the Metropolitan three times I fell in love with his voice and stage presence from the first. I bought this CD out of curiosity -- could that great baritone pull off pop music? The answer for me is an enthusiastic yes. Baritones can be so "thick" that they can't stretch across musical type. But Gunn not only show a remarkable range, but actually makes the music not only melodic but often very soft and sweet -- not typical qualities for baritone voices. He can sell a song like no one else yet the selection choices were curious as I couldn't quite get how the majority fit the theme of the title song "Just before Sunrise." Yet, they were haunting, often catchy and generally alluring. And I love it when popular composers more obscure pieces are highlighted by masters like Gunn. I enjoyed this CD more than "American Anthem" (his first.) "
Perfect Pitch Gunn
Dean G. Ehlers | New Mexico | 08/11/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It is a rarity that in our lifetime we stumble across someone as talented as Nathan Gunn. He has that 'little something extra' that is so often quoted from "A Star Is Born." The quote is actually from a columnist who wrote years ago but she had the right phrase. This guy is pure talent! His voice has a range that soars through the rafters with great depth and clarity. Each syllable is quite distinct and his delivery amazing. This album is a culmination of many nights on the road and touring. He is on the perfect tract, as I believe the public wants and needs genuine talent. Nathan Gunn has got that and more. I truly enjoyed this CD very much and have been listening to it ever since I bought it. I am looking forward to hearing more from Nathan Gunn as I am sure we have not heard the last."