An impressive career for anyone--and especially for someone at the tender age of 29.
In 1998, McDonald recorded a solo CD, on the Nonesuch Records label, entitled Way Back To Paradise (the title track taken from Marie Christine), featuring the work of the new generation of composers including LaChiusa, Adam Guettel (the Off-Broadway musical Floyd Collins), and Jason Robert Brown (Parade). The album garnered praise for McDonald, but drew sharp criticism for her choice of material: where were the audience-pleasing standards that could highlight McDonald's vocal gifts?
As if to answer her critics, McDonald's second solo release, How Glory Goes (also on Nonesuch), mixes Broadway classics by Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern, and Leonard Bernstein with new work from the likes of Adam Guettel, Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (Ragtime), and Jeanine Tesori. The older and newer material blend seamlessly, thanks to McDonald's expert delivery, although the album is not without its flaws.
Arlen and Johnny Mercer's "Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home" from St. Louis Woman opens the collection, with McDonald providing a cool and easy vocal navigation of the jazzy landscape. Her classical training, however, occasionally betrays her with over-enunciation and meticulous rhythmic interpretations. Overall, she finds an emotional intensity that builds nicely, ending with McDonald in full voice and full command.
Her second St. Louis Woman entry, "I Had Myself A True Love," mines even greater depths, employing both McDonald's power and her sensitivity in a masterful balance. However, she fares less well with "Bill" from Kern and Hammerstein's Show Boat, as her singing seems to exceed the limitations of the song. Here, and on Arlen's "I Never Has Seen Snow," McDonald's intelligence and skill seem so removed from the antiquated feeling of both pieces; she seems too smart to sell lines like "I done lost my ugly spell" and "What I really wants to say is this."
Arlen's "A Sleepin' Bee" suffers similarly, not only lyrically but with its creepy string arrangements and McDonald's somewhat unnatural vocal swoops. It is refreshing, then, as she wraps her voice around "I Hid My Love," composed by Steve Marzullo to a poem by John Clare, and "Was That You?" the first of two Adam Guettel entries. McDonald sells these contemporary tracks more convincingly--proving that her advocacy of them is well founded--and uses her operatic background to reveal wonderful intricacies.