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In the Presence ()

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Daniel Rodriguez, a former NYPD policeman, became "America's Beloved Tenor" when his public renditions of the National Anthem and "God Bless America" offered comfort to millions in the wake of 9/11 -- and he goes even further towards fulfilling his inspirational destiny on his beautifully emotional Blix Street Records debut with In the Presence, his third album. While his first two albums, Spirit of America and From My Heart took patriotic and romantic directions, here he draws on his faith to create -- with the powerful, sweeping help of the Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra -- a collection that, while often Christian-themed, truly crosses all religious lines. While more expected choices like "Amazing Grace," "Ave Maria," and "How Great Thou Art" are rendered passionately, it's Rodriguez's other choices that truly make the collection "holy," (i.e. set apart from the genre's norm). Most notably, his duets with Lea Salonga on Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Pie Jesu" and the traditional "Panis Angelicus" offer a stunning balance of the theatrical and the sacred. "Joyful Joyful" features lyrics set to Beethoven's "Ode to Joy," pushing the album into classical crossover territory as well. The singer's gentle take on the more modern "American Hymn" is a centerpiece that inspires the kind of patriotism that we found in the days when Rodriguez first came into the pop culture consciousness. It's terribly ironic to think that such a talent might have remained obscure had it not been for 9/11, but there's no denying that he is more than a one-note novelty. This collection is every bit as compelling as Michael Crawford's On Eagle's Wings (which Rodriguez also covers, naturally). ~ Jonathan Widran, Rovi Hide synopsis

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