Will Liverman
Will Liverman | Credit: Daniel Welch

What a gorgeous voice Will Liverman has. If you had only heard the baritone in the Metropolitan Opera’s sonically compromised live broadcast of Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones, you wouldn’t be prepared for the sheer beauty of his unforced instrument in his latest recording, Show Me the Way, a two-disc recital from Cedille Records.

Whether at his crooner best in an arrangement of Ella Fitzgerald and Chick Webb’s “You Showed Me the Way” (the first song on the first disc, which gives the project its title) or singing his soul out in Florence Price’s “I Grew a Rose” and “Songs to the Dark Virgin,” Liverman provides ample evidence for his stardom. Note how well he enunciates at the top of his range and how deftly he dispenses with the high tessitura of Price’s “Rose.”

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Nor is Liverman the only star on this recording. No lesser singers than mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges and sopranos Nicole Cabell and Renée Fleming grace this double album that ends with Liverman’s gospel-singing mother Terry holding forth beautifully in Alma Bazel Androzzo’s “If I Can Help Somebody,” with her son on piano. To this list of stars, add the five composers Liverman commissioned for the album: Jasmine Barnes (the song cycle A Sable Jubilee), Libby Larsen (the cycle Machine Head: Ted Burke Poems), Rene Orth (“A Prayer”), Kamala Sankaram (“Spell to Turn the World Around”), and Sarah Kirkland Snider (“Everything That Ever Was”).

I wish Liverman and his able accompanist, Jonathan King, had stuck with the original accompaniment to the opening track. Instead, King’s attempt to update and inject extra profundity into a song that the fabulous Ella made famous in 1937 has produced a needlessly plodding arrangement. But it’s the only misstep on an otherwise compelling and sometimes spellbinding album.

One of the album’s many highlights is Liverman’s exemplary pronunciation and refusal to indulge in the formalities of operatic English. In many songs, his pronunciation is as clear as that of many of the greatest interpreters of American popular song. Stuffiness begone.

Listeners will have many favorites from Show Me the Way’s abundance. Barnes’s three songs, which celebrate Black identity, are surely an album highlight. The melodies are catchy and uplifting, the lyrics affirming and to the point. I’m not a fan of Liverman’s falsetto, which surfaces for the first time in Barnes’s “Inspiration” — but everything else about the songs and the interpretation ensures that A Sable Jubilee will appeal to many other performers and be heard by an ever-widening audience.

Margaret Bonds shows her daringly original side in “I Know My Mind” and “What Lips My Lips Have Kissed,” two stellar selections from her Four Songs (to texts by Edna St. Vincent Millay). Liverman opts for falsetto at the top of his range rather than daring to close the final song in full voice — it’s his only apparent vocal limitation.

Turning to the other singers, Bridges sounds too grandly operatic for the repertoire and not supremely steady. A mature-voiced Cabell is a bit operatic but steady and impressive, and Fleming is laudably steady but far too covered. The guest vocalist who comes across best and most idiomatically suited to her repertoire, even with her volume limitations, is Terry Liverman.

Violinist Lady Jess, a soloing member of Beyoncé’s band, and cellist Tahirah Whittington, who has performed and recorded for Beyoncé and Rhiannon Giddens, make essential contributions to Cabell’s recording of Amy Beach’s luscious “Ah, love is a jasmine vine.”

The recital, which is available for download and streaming in high-resolution 24/96, is nicely recorded. Ideally, it would have offered more depth, air, and piano overtones, but it’s quite fine for voice — which is essential. Ultimately, it’s for Liverman’s vocal mastery as well as his repertoire’s power and beauty that this recording will earn multiple listens from lovers of the human voice.