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Lara Downes - America Again / NPR: First Listen

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What defines America? There's been a lot of talk about that this election season. Pianist Lara Downes has a musical answer in her upcoming album America Again. To be released Oct. 28, it's a smartly programmed, wide-ranging anthology of solo piano works by American composers past and present; male and female; straight and gay; rich and poor; white, black and Latino.

The album's title may evoke a certain presidential candidate's rallying cry, but it's taken from "Let America Be America Again," a poem by Langston Hughes. (That Hughes title actually was a campaign slogan for John Kerry in 2004.) Hughes' poem, written in 1935, speaks of those for whom the American Dream is just that - only a dream. Downes' album reflects Hughes' theme of resignation in "Deep River," a smoldering reimagining of the traditional spiritual by Samuel Coleridge Taylor, and in her nod to Nina Simone's introspective take on Gershwin's "I Loves You Porgy." Yet, like Hughes, Downes also embraces that distinctively American brand of hope.

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