The songs - which include eleven selections handpicked by Gordon and Cabell, in addition to the ten-song cycle Genius Child- are strongly American in flavor and jazzily impressionistic, the piano "painting" an aural representation of Hughes's evocative poetry. Accompanied sensitively by the composer at the piano, Cabell spins Gordon's lyrical but wide ranging vocal lines with ease and expresses the texts with crisp diction that rarely sounds forced or unnatural. There are some vocal inconsistencies that creep into the performance - most notably the occasional slowing of Cabell's rather prominent vibrato and moments of inaccurate intonation (such as the last note of "Stars"). However, the luscious beauty of Cabell's voice and the intelligence of her delivery more than compensate for any shortcomings.
As with practically any disc featuring only a single voice and the works of one composer, the program threatens to become monotonous at times; taken in smaller doses, however, there is much to savor. Each of the songs selected for the album's first half is its own small gem, reflecting for the most part a positive view of life and hope for the future of the human race. Particularly noteworthy are Cabell's joyful exuberance in "Heaven" and "Harlem Night Song," her wistful optimism in "Stars" and "Daybreak in Alabama'' (which features a stunning high B), and the playful seduction in "Port Town." The program's second half, devoted to Genius Child, adopts a more solemn tone ("Winter Moon," "Kid in the Park," "Troubled Woman," etc.), and Cabell continues to interpret effectively. Some parts of this cycle are less consistently memorable than the material presented in the disc's first half, but there are magical moments to be found, such as the yearning in Cabell's voice on the final note of "Prayer."
The album has been intimately recorded, but rather unrealistically so, with both piano and voice quite close and fleshed out by artificial reverb. This lack of "air" around Cabell's voice has a tendency to dampen some of its natural overtones, suppress pronounced sibilants and lend a slightly hollow/boxy quality to the voice's lower range. The piano fares better, sounding full yet appropriately crisp and bright on higher notes.
Included in the accompanying booklet are Ricky Ian Gordon's candid remarks about his own compositional habits and inspirations, as well as his collaborations with Cabell and soprano Harolyn Blackwell, for whom Genius Child was originally composed.
Songs by Ricky Ian Gordon. Blue Griffin Recording BGR253
Review by Derek Greten-Harrison, Opera News, January 2013.