In the opening minute of her new album, sung entirely a capella, prize-winning mezzo Jamie Bartondisplays all her remarkable expressive and vocal skills. As she sings Sister Helen Prejean’s opening words of “Music” from Jake Heggie’s song cycle The Breaking Waveswe immediately feel that here is an exceptional talent. With lithe athleticism, creamy tone and an ability to raise your neck hairs, Barton describes a man on death row who has been given a tape recorder and headphones. “I listened to music all night long,” he tells Prejean. In Barton’s hands, that word “music” billows out in a wide and thrilling melisma.

Unexpected Shadows

It’s a memorable introduction to this wide-ranging collection of songs about strong women by the...

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