The solo vocal music catalogue of Libby Larsen has become a substantial staple in the American Song repertoire. As a feminist and advocate for women in the Arts, this album celebrates some of Larsen’s most beloved song cycles in which women poets and characters are the central figures. Larsen has always gravitated towards the stories of strong women: hardship-enduring women like Cather’s Antonia, gender-role defying women like Calamity Jane, and the ill-fated wives of Henry the VIII, Larsen lifts up the virtues and highlights the universal struggles of women throughout history.   This collection of four song cycles span more than 20 years of Larsen’s compositional output. From her earliest studies in the art of text setting in Cowboy Songs, to the vivid musical landscapes of My Antonia, to the bleak last days of the Queens, Larsen utilizes musical texture, rhythm and melody in a way that unleashes the “theater of the mind” for the listener. With a musically dramatic flair, Larsen chooses to tell relatable stories through arcing melodic lines over a distinctly modern, but traditional harmonic language. Imagery and mood are strong in these works: from the bucking horse brought to life through the piano in “Bucking Bronco,” to the slow, spacious texture and utilization of the blues scale in “Lift Me into Heaven Slowly,” to the interweaving of the American cowboy song “Goodbye, Old Paint” in “Billy the Kid,” Larsen’s writing creates vivid characters and images of the Old West.   Calamity Jane’s letters to her daughter resonated with Larsen on many levels: the challenges faced by working women, the honesty of the mother-daughter relationship, and the directness and pride of the language. The landscape is featured in the story of Jim and a young immigrant girl, Antonia; the harsh realities of early life on the Midwestern plains, and of lives on different trajectories.   The set concludes with letters and gallows speeches of five of Henry VIII’s six wives. “In these songs, I chose to focus on the intimate crises of the heart” Larsen writes. “This group of songs is a monodrama of anguish and power.”