Bands like the Calling are a perfect example of what was wrong with "modern rock" radio in 2001. Utterly homogenous and virtually interchangable with any number of the "here today, gone tomorrow" one-hit wonders that emerged during the turn of the century, the L.A.-based quintet had the radio formula down to the letter: take a bunch of reasonably decent-looking 20somethings; force feed them a steady diet of Matchbox Twenty, Third Eye Blind, and Eve 6; exchange canned melodrama for passion and depth; then polish to a slick, glossy sheen and watch as the highly coveted teen dollars roll in. You can't really blame the Calling for wanting to cash in: they obviously invested every ounce of energy into songs like the pseudoanthemic "Unstoppable" and the requisite radio ballad, "Wherever You Will Go," but there is not one element on this album -- from the quiet/loud verse/chorus staple to frontman Alex Band's watered-down, Eddie Vedder-inspired sensitive guy wailings -- that hasn't been done before.
The song cycle The Soul Fox by Lori Laitman, chronicling the dissolution of a marriage after infidelity in short, deft strokes, gets top billing on this release from the U.S. label Equilibrium Recordings. But Kansas-based soprano Julia Broxholm, in her own notes, offers the opinion that "there has never been a more exciting time for American song," and it's actually the program as a whole that's most compelling. There are two sets of very short songs, one by Ned Rorem, who certainly served as inspiration for the younger composers on the album.
The other is unique: a "Collection of Epitaphs and Elegies" by various composers, just a minute or two in length, filtering the basic idea through different prisms. Broxholm and pianist Russell Miller round out the program with contemporary songs by a male composer, Eric Ewazen, setting works of a female poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and an older group of songs by a female composer, Amy Beach, setting texts by Robert Browning. You can speculate on the influence of gender in these works, but the bottom line is that the program is unusually stimulating and coherent. Broxholm's voice will be a matter of taste: its size is well suited to these songs, but the pitch may be uncertain at times. An unusual recital recommended for those interested in American art song.