Vishten at the Guthrie Center and Thoughts on PEI Music


Awaiting Vishten. No devices allowed during shows. Yay!
Not many people south of the Maine/New Brunswick border can tell you much about Prince Edward Island and even that might be a generous assessment. There are, after all, just over 140,000 people in the entire province—about a third as many as live in the New York City borough of Staten Island. If pressed, some in the Lower 48 might know that Prince Edward Island potatoes compete with spuds from Maine and Idaho, but you have to be among the cognoscenti to know that tiny PEI has one of the most vibrant musical traditions in the Western hemisphere. Seriously—it's so rich that I've come to imagine there's a provincial law requiring all residents either to become professional musicians or move to the Yukon.

I'm a folk music geek, so PEI music isn't new to me. I've known about fiddlers Richard Wood and J. J. Chaisson for some time, lamented the dissolution of the band Barachois in 2007, and even knew that Stompin' Tom Connors lived there for a time. But, like I said, that makes me a geek (freak?).  For most, PEI music draws blanks, though the secret is slowly getting out and once it does, there's no turning back. At the fore is the trio Vishtèn. For the past three summers they've drawn enthusiastic audiences in the Massachusetts' Berkshires town of Great Barrington and, on September 2, I was lucky enough to catch a show at the Guthrie Center. If that name rings a bell, you're right—the Guthrie Center is named for folksinger Arlo Guthrie, who lives nearby. He now owns the church he made famous in "Alice's Restaurant" and has converted it to a cultural venue and administrative post for the various philanthropic projects with which he's associated. It's a terrific space for music—acoustically sound and sporting café tables to hold cold brews and well-prepared offerings from the small kitchen just off the lobby. Vishtèn added charm and warmth to a near-perfect late summer evening.

Vishtèn is an anomaly within an anomaly. They are Francophone Acadians in a province in which 94% of the residents are English speakers and they are, strictly speaking, only two-thirds of a PEI band. Vishtèn is anchored by twin sisters Emmanuelle (vocals, whistles, mandolin, piano, foot percussion) and Pastelle (vocals, accordion, piano, mandolin) LeBlanc. The third member, Pascal Miousse (vocals, guitar, fiddle) hails from the nearby Magdalen Islands, which technically makes him a Quebeçois. Never mind! Francophone sensibilities infuse most of Vishtèn's music, especially in the planks of wood underneath Emmanuelle's feet, as foot percussion is the rhythmic foundation for most Vishtèn sets. Their opening numbers was both typical, yet unorthodox. It featured rolling accordion note bursts atop a fiddle drone, nonsense syllable vocalizations, and Emmanuelle sitting ramrod straight in her chair to play Jew's harp or penny whistle, but her legs and feet a blur as the tunes gathered pace. There were several false stops, the momentary pause signaling the shift into a higher gear before rushing helter skelter to the actual finish. 

 Vishtèn performed selections from their back catalogue (5 albums in all), but the bulk of the material came from their most recent release, Terre Rouge, and with good reason—it just won them a 2016 East Coast Music Award as the Traditional Group of the Year. An ECMA nod is a big deal indeed—something akin to a regional Grammy. (In Canada, only a Juno Award carries more prestige and these usually go to more pop-oriented performers.) Vishtèn did several of my favorites from Terre Rouge, including "Trois Blizzards," a moody homage to a one-tow-three punch of winter storms that left PEI without power for five days and necessitated that locals pitch in to aid each other old-fashioned communal style. Pascal remarked that he was oddly saddened when power was restored because it meant everyone retreated to their insular ways. As a result, the tunes within the set are appropriately wistful with a spirit that's somewhere between resilient and melancholy. They also dusted off their pan-Acadian good-time two-step "Joe Fèraille," a Cajun stomper from Louisiana. The sisters joined force at several junctures to show off some duel step dancing, though most of their footwork is akin to (but not the same as) Quèbeçois clogging.

The Louisiana departure notwithstanding, Terre Rouge references PEI's red soil and Vishtèn's songs might be mostly in French, but they are deeply rooted in the island's red earth. To my mind, Ten Strings and a Goatskin is the best exemplar of PEI's Celtic roots and Vishtèn the Acadian heritage. From such a small place—such mighty sounds. Grab any chance you get to see Vishtèn. Their live shows are even better than their CDs.

Rob Weir


Calvin Coolidge and William McKinley: Pairing Presidents XI

Calvin Coolidge and William McKinley:

Americans have lived with the two-party system for so long that many seem to think either God or the Constitution handed down the current system. Not so. Nor is it the case that Democrats were always more liberal and Republicans more conservative. Abe Lincoln was the first Republican president and, prior to Franklin Roosevelt, the GOP was generally far more progressive than the Democrats, the party of Southern white racism. The moral of the lesson is that party priorities shift.

This column looks at the two presidents who did the most to move the Republican Party to its current pro-business, anti-labor, self-reliance, and small government stance: William McKinley and Calvin Coolidge.

How they are similar:

Both believed fervently in the private sector, disliked regulation, and were advocates of laissez-faire theories that postulate that government should not interfere in economic matters. In essence, each was to the right of Adam Smith in their views of how capitalism should function. Coolidge was more extreme in his conservative views, but McKinley can be seen as his precursor.

McKinley won the 1896 presidential race over William Jennings Bryan, a campaign that took place against the backdrop of the Populist challenge. The Populists briefly appeared poised to upset the two-party apple cart by becoming a legitimate threat to Republicans and Democrats alike, but especially the latter given that both drew their greatest strength from farm states in the Midwest and South. In 1892, Populist James Weaver secured 22 electoral votes on a platform built upon social democratic ideals, a call for induced inflation via the minting of silver coinage, and the nationalization of railroads and banks. If the idea of purposeful inflation sounds odd, consider that farmers borrow money each spring and pay it back (or not) from the sale of commodities. Ideally (for farmers), commodity prices rise and interest rates fall, making loans easier to retire. The Populists even had a plan for storing commodities to ensure prices wouldn't tumble too low.

The Populists so unsettled the Democrats that they toyed with liberalization. In the end, the golden-tongued Bryan and the Dems took over the "safe" parts of the Populist program (free silver, mild business regulation) and jettisoned its socialist ideas. McKinley went further—or perhaps one should say that his campaign manager, Cleveland investor/businessman Mark Hanna did so–not until Dick Cheney's influence on George H. W. Bush has an advisor exercised such Svengali-like influence on a candidate. McKinley ran as an unabashed gold standard supporter, a plan that worked brilliantly in siphoning urban voters from the Populists and Democrats by arguing that free silver would make the cost of the workers' bread rise! McKinley affirmed the gold standard when he beat Bryan again in 1900. As president, McKinley was decidedly pro-business. His one Supreme Court nominee, Joseph McKenna, was a railroad investor. In most ways, the GOP shifted right under McKinley. He even saw to it that Hanna was appointed to the U.S. Senate. (U.S. Senators were not chosen by direct election until 1913. Ironically, the call for direct elections was a Populist precept.)

Coolidge is known for the adage, "America's business is business." That pretty much sums up how he worked closely with Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon (of the banking family empire) to evolve policies ancestral to supply-side economics. Revenue Acts slashed taxes in 1924, 1926, and 1928; soon, a mere 2% of Americans paid income taxes at all. This was fine by both men, who argued that high taxes were disincentives for investors and encouraged the government to overspend. Coolidge despised regulation and was loath to use the Interstate Commerce Commission or the Federal Trade Commission for any reason. He was also anti-labor unions, a sentiment he first showed as Massachusetts governor when he smashed the 1919 Boston police strike. Many of the worst abuses to unions occurred under his presidency and union strength plummeted to lows approximate to 2016 levels (around 11%). His SCOTUS nominee, Harlan Fiske Stone, was extremely conservative.

Neither president did much to advance African American civil rights. McKinley, as heir to Lincoln, expressed mild support for black Americans, but did nothing. He often cited Plessy v. Ferguson, the infamous 1896 SCOTUS decision that gave "separate but equal" a constitutional stamp, as his reason for inaction, but he probably had little real interest in civil rights and his presidency signaled the GOP's willingness to abandon its commitment to racial justice. He was an ardent imperialist who annexed Hawaii and spoke despairingly of non-white natives.

Coolidge signed into law a 1924 immigration bill that capped overall numbers and set quotas for how many immigrants could enter the US that was based on their nationality. It was designed to curtail immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Asia. Coolidge favored a bill to make lynching a federal crime, but did little to advance it and it failed in Congress. He claimed to be pro-civil rights, but this was little more than a rhetorical stand. The one glaring exception is that Coolidge was in office when Native Americans were granted citizenship in 1924. He held a romantic fondness for Natives. Oddly, he also felt affection for Japan and regretted restrictions placed upon Japanese immigrants.

How they were different:

McKinley was an imperialist and Coolidge tended toward isolationism. McKinley was president during the Spanish-American War. As noted, he also annexed Hawaii (largely at the behest of sugar barons), and demanded an Open Door policy in China to assure US economic interests there. As a post-World War One president, Coolidge steered clear from as many international alliances as he could. It's inaccurate to call him a radical isolationist, but he wasn't about to press for US entry into the League of Nations. He removed US troops from the Dominican Republic, but left them in place in Nicaragua and Haiti. He did, however, approve the idealistic Kellogg-Briand Treaty, which outlawed war and is now viewed as one of the most naïve agreements of diplomatic history. The aggressive McKinley would not have considered such a treaty.

McKinley was a protectionist, ideals in keeping with what the business community wanted in his time, but passé by Coolidge's. Coolidge infamously tried to get Europeans to pay back their war debts under the guise of international monetary agreements. ("They hired the money, didn't they? Let 'em pay it back.") McKinley would have been savvy enough to recognize Europeans were in no position to do so.

Coolidge surprisingly considered farm subsidies to deal with the depression that broke out in agriculture by the mid-1920s. This was, however, probably more the brainchild of Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace. When Congress shot down the plan, Coolidge never again mentioned it and Wallace started down a path that led him to democratic socialism. McKinley, of course, wanted to isolate the farm constituency and would not have countenanced such a plan in the first place.

McKinley was affable and Coolidge was a prig. The latter was known as "Silent Cal" for his laconic and brusk ways. He also hated movies and was generally a humorless man. You would have definitely picked McKinley as a beer partner.

McKinley was an honest person, but the jury's out on Coolidge. He left in place nearly all of the tainted Cabinet of his predecessor, Warren G. Harding—except for several still under active investigation for the Teapot Dome scandal.

McKinley left behind a more worthy successor: Theodore Roosevelt. That wasn't the plan—TR came to power when an anarchist assassinated McKinley. He was shot on September 9, 1901 and died of infection from un-removed bullet fragments five days later. McKinley's life could have been saved by new technology unveiled at the very Buffalo world's fair at which he was shot: the x-ray machine. His doctors deemed the machine "unsafe." In further irony, Roosevelt had only been VP for six months; McKinley's first VP, Garret Hobart, died in 1899 and TR was chosen in 1900 mostly to shore up the Eastern urban vote.

Coolidge did not leave behind such a worthy person. He declined to run for reelection in 1928 and his Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover—whom Coolidge disliked–succeeded him.


McKinley, rather incredibly, is currently ranked #19. This is way too high for an imperialist gold hound. Coolidge–Ronald Reagan's favorite president, for the record–is ranked near the bottom at #30. That sounds close to being correct. I wouldn't look for either man's name to be associated with a humanitarian event, or to grace future US currency–unless the gold standard comes back!


By Gaslight an Excellent (though overly long) Read

By Steven Price
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 752 pages

By Gaslight is an intriguing–if overly long–mystery from the pen of Canadian writer Steven Price (The Anatomy of Keys, 2006). It is a tale of guilt, obsession, and intuition with William Pinkerton (1846-1923) of the infamous detective agency at its heart. Price tells his tale from two points of view: Pinkerton's and that of Adam Foole, a member of England's "flash trade," a colloquialism for grifters, pick pockets, and thieves.

The year is 1885 and Pinkerton is in London following a clue that it is there he will find Edward Shade, a man with whom his father Allan (1819-1884) had dealings. What sort of dealings is unclear, though William suspects that Shade is a notorious criminal whom his father wished to bring to justice. Others, including Scotland Yard director John Shore, think he was a mere figment of Allan's imagination, and still others–including Sally Porter, an ex-slave Allan helped to freedom, tell William that Shade was just a boy who was killed in the Civil War. What begins as a son's effort to come to terms with the death of a powerful father takes a gruesome turn when William's supposed line to Shade, Mary* Reckitt, leaps into the Thames when he approaches her and then turns up days later, dismembered.

If you suspect by now that By Gaslight has Freudian undertones, you are correct. Add to your metaphor list numerous references to William brandishing his Colt pistol like a penis substitute. Mainly, though, this novel feels like a mash up of Wilkie Collins, Victor Hugo, and Arthur Conan Doyle–especially the latter, with the elusive (or is he fictional?) Shade as William's psychological Moriarty, and Mary as akin to Irene Adler for both Pinkerton and Foole, who William thinks may be Shade. Price takes us to London's seedy underbelly, especially the area around Embankment–now a posh tourist destination, but then a stinking dock area populated by criminals, the pox-ridden poor, rough workmen, squalid eateries, foul tenements, women of easy virtue, and dangerous taverns. This is a novel in which you expect the fog, miasmic vapors, and blood to ooze off the pages. Nowhere is this more in evidence than in scenes in which Pinkerton and Foole descend into London's sewers. (I half expected Jean Valjean to appear in one of the tunnels.)

What are Pinkerton and Foole doing in those tunnels together? It's complicated, but let's just say that each has his own reason for solving Mary's murder. Plus, Foole might just be your garden variety clever, but non-dangerous, grifter. Or he might be what he claims: an importer of ostrich feathers, the employer of hulking ex-criminal Japheth Fludd,* and benefactor to former street urchin Molly. Alone, these elements would make for a fat novel, but Price also takes us back and forth in time and place: from the 1860s to 1913 and to the American Civil War, South Africa, Europe, and the American Northwest.

Toss in also a diamond heist, spying, a balloon ascension, substitute father figures, betrayal, a stolen painting, and sociopathic behaviors. Whew! Price is an excellent writer, who makes battlefields, cut throat alleys, and gas- lighted streets come alive, but these additional elements are an awful lot to take in. I was never bored reading By Gaslight, but I was often exhausted! I admired the fact that Price did not excuse Pinkerton's obsession, nor did he neatly resolve ambiguities. But did the book need to be this long? Probably not.

Readers should also know–as Price is clear to point out–that this is not a historical novel. There was no Edward Shade, real or imaginary, nor are any of the other characters real in more than rudimentary way. (There was a John Shore, famous for investigating but failing to solve the Jack the Ripper murders. He did, however, solve the theft of a Thomas Gainsborough painting, which probably inspired Price to imagine the art heist in his novel.) Moreover, no one should glamorize any of the Pinkertons–their spy work during the Civil War notwithstanding, they were violent men whose agency ran roughshod over the U.S. Constitution. There was no more hated group in late 19th century America than the Pinkertons, a veritable private army-for-hire by Gilded Age robber barons seeking to crush labor unions or anyone else that dared question their might. (They're now mostly mall rent-a-cops and there's karmic justice in that!) Nor is there a lot of solid biographical information about William, so we don't know if he held tender thoughts for his family or, indeed, if he was the obsessive man Price makes him out to be.

It is not a novelist's job to write history–merely to tell a good story. This is a very good story, indeed. In my view, it would have been an even better one pared back at the insistence of a tough developmental editor. It's well worth reading as is, but you might want to save it for long winter's nights; it will take much longer to plow through than a drifted driveway.

Rob Weir

*I was sent an advance review copy in which Reckitt is always "Mary" and Japheth's last name is spelled "Fludd." I notice references to "Charlotte" Reckitt and Japheth "Flood" in other reviews, but I cannot say whether edits were made before publication, or if other reviewers are in error.


Herbert Hoover and Martin Van Buren: Pairing Presidents X

History hasn't been kind to Herbert Hoover or Martin Van Buren, as both men presided over bad recessions they failed to alleviate, Hoover the Great Depression and Van Buren the Panic of 1837. History suggests there might be cause to reconsider the total vilification of Hoover, but Van Buren might be getting more of a break than he deserves.

How they are similar:

Neither man caused the economic disaster over which they presided. Hoover was Secretary of Commerce from 1921-1929, before becoming president in March of 1929.  This means he was in the Cabinet during the go-go 1920s, a time in which the economy was supercharged, but which historians now look upon as a whirlwind of reckless speculation that contributed to the Stock Market Collapse of October, 1929. The Great Depression was destined to linger into 1941. Hoover, however, cautioned more restraint on the market, and President Calvin Coolidge complained that Hoover constantly gave him "bad advice." In truth, it was Coolidge's own aggressive laissez-faire policies that played a big role, though Hoover must bear some blame for bringing the federal government and the business community into a symbiotic relationship that may have mitigated against more aggressive action when the economy soured. Hoover also bears blame for promoting the ruinous Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930 that raised import excise levels to such a high level that other governments levied harsh retaliatory import taxes on U.S. goods. This was especially bad for farmers, who were already reeling from plummeting commodity prices in the Coolidge administration. Scholars continue to debate what exactly caused the Great Depression–the consensus is that it was a global financial "perfect storm"–but few place the blame on Hoover.

In like fashion, Van Buren inherited his mess from Andrew Jackson, whom he served as vice president from 1833-37, before succeeding Jackson in March of 1837. A bank panic roiled the economy in 1833, when Jackson infamously took down the Second Bank of the United States and moved government assets into regional banks. Jackson also insisted upon hard specie, which precipitated a money flow problem. Both of these problems resurfaced for a century, until the Federal Reserve Act (1913) stabilized the money supply and President Franklin Roosevelt insured bank deposits in 1933. Van Buren had been critical of Jackson's bank plan, but he did not reverse it. This made the economy vulnerable. To simplify, it was possible for speculators trying to corner hard specie or manipulate stock values to cause a bank run in which nervous investors tried to remove their deposits; many lost their life savings. Rising interest rates and the calling in of risky loans associated with Western expansion led to bank panics that ripped through the economy, leading to falling wages, lost jobs, and steep rises in valuable commodities such as slaves, land, and cotton.

Neither president did a good job of restoring confidence. Hoover was not the do-nothing president of which he was accused of being. He enacted measures aimed at farmers, banks, stocks, and industry, but his actions were largely directed at those he felt directed the course of the economy. Hoover's aversion to direct aid for workers contributed to unpopularity that led to parody that came to pass as reality: shanty towns were dubbed Hoovervilles, hungry street dwellers consumed rats and called then Hoover hogs, and those sleeping on benches huddled under cast-off newspapers they called Hoover blankets. Especially disastrous from a PR standpoint was Hoover's refusal to approve early bonuses for World War One vets. When vets of the so-called Bonus Marchers were routed (and some were killed) by the existing US military in 1932, the nation was shocked and Hoover's hopes for reelection were dashed. Ordinary Americans felt that Hoover offered them little more than platitudes and vague promises that conditions would improve. It should be noted, though, that Hoover actually set in motion the Glass-Steagall Act that walled off commercial banks from investment banks. This became the basis of FDR's Banking Act of 1933.  

For his part, Van Buren often spoke of problems associated with Jackson's decision to end the Second B.U.S. and he contemplated specie reform, but he never moved from rhetoric to action. He was especially inactive in doing much of anything specific about slavery. He claimed to have moral reservations, but slaves were viewed primarily as economic commodities at the time and he was loath to touch upon the explosive issue in any form—even though high slave prices contributed the 1837 panic. He did try to lower tariffs, but Congress pared back his efforts. In like fashion, he tried to make the Treasury Department completely independent, but Congress refused to give up its oversight. It is doubtful either action fully activated would have made much difference. His only significant economic action was granting a ten-hour workday to federal employees. Van Buren actually fits a do-nothing profile better than Hoover.

Neither was very good on race relations; in fact, Van Buren was awful. As noted, he claimed to be troubled by slavery, but he refused even to consider banning the slave trade in the District of Columbia. Like many moral cowards of his day, Van Buren hid behind the Constitution and argued that he could nothing about slavery, failing to mention that as Jackson's vice president he had supported the gag rule that prevented slavery from being debated. His one positive action was to oppose the annexation of the Republic of Texas as a slave state, but even that decision had less to do with moral qualms than the fact it would destabilize the 1820 Missouri Compromise. He sided with Spain on 1839 Amistad incident and would have returned mutinous slaves to Cuba, had not U.S. courts stayed his hand. Van Buren also proved to be Jackson's henchman in Indian policy. He was the president who implemented the vile and infamous Indian Removal Act that led, among other things, to the tragic Trail of Tears forced march of Cherokees and four other tribes from ancestral homelands in the Western Appalachians to Oklahoma. He also conducted a war against the Seminoles.

Hoover simply did little to advance African American or Native American rights, the latter surprising as recognizing the citizenship rights of Indians was one of the few good things Calvin Coolidge actually did. Hoover basically wanted Indians to acculturate and live as individuals rather than as members of sovereign tribes. His worst racism, though, was aimed at Chicanos. Once the Depression descended, the Hoover administration engaged in underhanded methods to get Mexicans and Mexican-Americans to "voluntarily" go to Mexico by paying for one-way tickets and by inferring they would otherwise soon be deported. In truth, there was no existing US law that would have allowed Hoover to expel them, nor would there be until 1965.

How they were different:

Hoover was a better human being than Van Buren. In fact, had not the Depression occurred, Hoover would have been seen as a late Progressive Era president. He was an ardent conservationist, expanded the number of civil service jobs, supported health care reform, wanted to develop at St Lawrence Seaway treaty with Canada, and pictured himself as a trustbuster in the Theodore Roosevelt mold. He was also tough on organized crime and threw government investigative power behind the pursuit of Al Capone. 

It is odd that history has so vilified Hoover as heartless. As noted, he often behaved in racist ways typical of white of his period, but before becoming president, Hoover had been viewed as a great humanitarian. It was he who coordinated the feeding and housing of Europeans displaced by World War One. He also won kudos for his work in getting aid to victims of a 1927 flood along the Mississippi River. Despite his chicanery regarding Chicanos, in the White House Hoover so dramatically improved relations with Latin American nations that his efforts are now viewed as forerunner of FDR's Good Neighbor policy in the region. He also tried to press Japan on its 1931 invasion of Manchuria, though this didn't pan out.

There simply isn't much in Van Buren's record to see him as much more than a conniving career politician more interested in self advancement than in moral cause, national interest, or idealism. His racial views were loathsome, even by the debased standards of his day.


Because the Great Depression proved to be so horrific, Hoover takes the blame for it. He was ineffective, but he was neither heartless nor culpable. His current rating is #32, but he has already climbed in the estimation of scholars and should continue to do so. Van Buren, inexplicably, is #24. This is completely out of whack with the historical record; he deserves to be ranked in the lower tier, not the middle of the pack.


Carrie Newcomer: September Album of the Month

The Beautiful Not Yet
Available Light Music 03

It seems silly to call this Carrie Newcomer release—her 16th—a "mature" release given that she's never made an immature one. Nonetheless, this one is filled with such wisdom, grace, beauty, and hope that it has come to occupy a special place in my heart. It's not just my best release for September, it's so good that I cannot imagine I will hear anything else as good this calendar year.  It is relentlessly optimistic in ways that humble and move me to tears. Newcomer doesn't just sing about hopeful things–though titles such as "The Season of Mercy," "When the Light Comes Down," and "You Can Do This Hard Thing" are pretty much their own statements–she practices what she preaches. I write these words in the midst of still another nasty political campaign and, like a lot of folks, I wonder where all the good people have gone. Ms. Newcomer reminds me. Check out her Wikipedia bio and you'll see what I mean. Even better, buy this stunning CD.

Newcomer grabs us from the get-go. The opening track, "Lean in Toward the Light" begins with guitar, strings from Natalie Haas (cello) and Sumaia Jackson (fiddle), a splash of mando from Jordan Tice and banjo from Jayme Stone, and cuts to a gospel-like choir with Newcomer leading all in vocal prayer. Her voice—deep, emotive, and with husky undertones–is one for the ages, the alto equivalent of Judy Collins' soprano. Speaking of prayer, her "A Shovel is a Prayer" reminds us of the utter holiness of life's small and private moments. That same ethos carries over to "Cedar Rapids 10 AM," a fragile song of love, yearning, and road weariness. Newcomer takes a straightforward lyric and makes it transformative. Read these words: You've always been a cup of coffee/You've always been the cream/You've always believed I was better/Than I could ever dream. Now listen to them in musical context. Magic, right? I expect Mary Chapin Carpenter to come calling on this one any day.   

The entire album is like this—so much so that one wonders how she accesses these parts of her mind and soul. The title track pays homage to quickenings, those moments of becoming that have just begun to unfold; her "Sanctuary" is the meaning we find in other people; and "Help in Hard Times" references "lunar spirituality" and is appropriately mysterious, slightly dark, and a tad languid. It's always tricky and perhaps disingenuous to presume the intentions of an artist, but to my ear the two songs that best capture Ms. Newcomer's outlook are "Three Feet or So" and "The Slender Thread." The first is catchy musically, but also a plea to be grateful for what we have whenever we get caught up in wants and desires; the second a reminder that we're "holding on to a slender thread" as we go through life, one that connects to those whom we love.

This is, in short, a beautiful album in both song and spirit. Cynics beware! Listening to Carrie Newcomer might just make you start volunteering at your local food bank. At the very least, you'll be overwhelmed by a desire to hold someone tightly– a slender thread, but maybe one made of steel.

Rob Weir