There was nothing like the Robeson sound, ever. To describe his deep, rich, perfectly equalized instrument is futile. Go instead to “Balm in Gilead,” the opening track, and see if you can listen to the last pianissimo phrase without falling to pieces. Robeson was at his best when the music was slow and the words contained spiritual or social messages. Faster, lighter fare like Kern’s “I Still Suits Me” or Gershwin’s “It Ain’t Necessarily So” find the serious-minded singer out of his element, lacking irony and swing. “Old Man River,” though, gets a simple, dignified treatment. It’s Songs of Free Men, though, that will just keep Robeson’s artistry rolling along, especially in Sony’s astonishing transfers.

In the 1940s, before rabid McCarthyism and racism had taken its toll on him, Robeson made these wonderful recordings of spirituals, classics and pop tunes. Accompanied by the solo piano of the incomparable Lawrence Brown, or by an orchestra, the songs ring out with pride, dignity, skill and unmatched integrity. The shameful treatment that Robeson was subject to from American authorities certainly seem grotesquely absurd to a modern listener. The wonderful version of “The House I Live In” included on this cd should forever kill off any suspicion that Robeson did not love his country deeply. This album ought to be heard by millions of people, world wide. Robeson’s voice is nothing less than a glorious high point in 20th century music, and it’s hard to think of any recording capturing it to greater advantage.
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Fresh link:
Paul Robeson – Songs Of Free Men
(192 kbps, cover art included)

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