I was a bit apprehensive about the coherence of such a deliberately kaleidoscopic project, but the aural odyssey through so many styles proves to be as oddly hypnotic as watching the pieces of colored glass fall into seemingly inexhaustible combinations. This approach to creating the songbook ensures discoveries for any listener, but also that these discoveries may be different for each. My own tastes inclined towards the rich texts of poets re-focused through their lean, contemporary settings (there is Whitman, of course, but also Auden and, to my delight, Julia Kasdorf for Yotam Haber's "On Leaving Brooklyn.") There are also, though, delights in Lisa Bielawa's "Breakfast in New York," which feels like a compressed song cycle, the setting of conversations overheard in the city's diners.
The strange metamorphoses of metaphor can be traced from a couple finding "all the Eden earth affords" in Scott Wheeler's "At Home in Staten Island" to the subway rider seeking escape from eternal significance in Glen Roven's evocative "F from DUMBO." Perhaps the recording's most endearing characteristic is its willingness to joyously hymn everything from tourist-thronged Times Square (Richard Pearson Thomas, "The Center of the Universe") to the particular pleasures of a New York neighborhood. Yes, even--no, especially--if, as in Gabriel Kahane's "Coney Island Avenue," these comprise "The Chinese laundry, the Puerto Rican fruit stand, / the probably illegal, definitely sketchy / Hasidic copy shop slash passport office." More information on the odes of the songbook's two CDs may be found here.