Caroline Cotter: July 2023 Artist of the Month


Why is it that so much summertime music is dominated by rhinestone cowboys, geriatric rockers, and Jimmy Buffett? If you’d rather have something sweet and calm, get your Romneys (“mitts,” get it?) on the new Caroline Cotter release. By the time you read this, her third national release Gently As I Go should be available.


Cotter is a Rhode Island native now dwelling near Acadia National Park in Maine. She is an unabashed folk artist and a road warrior who has performed in 45 states and 14 countries. Cotter has shared stages with Heather Maloney, with whom she shares sensibilities and vocal qualities, though to my ear her soprano tones sound even more like Kate Rusby. Like those two artists, though, she prefers to strip music to its basics: a mellifluous voice and an acoustic guitar.


Gently As I Go is filled with Cotter’s observations on life, love, loss, and connections.

“Don’t Wait” is the first spinoff single and carpe diem is its core message. There are all manner of things–ranging from getting out of bed to embracing true love or making up your mind–that freeze us in place. It sounds simple, but her “don’t wait” message is disarmingly wise.


That song is the only one available to preview as the album doesn’t officially drop until August, but I can attest that the other ten songs are similarly serene.* They also prod her us in parallel ways, but usually with velvet gloves. “Coming Your Way” is at once a road song and an embrace of love wherever it’s found and for as long as it endures: And if this doesn’t last as all things shall pass/I’ll be coming your way. The title track also probes the potential pathos of learning to love without being loved back, but instead of plotting revenge or screaming to the heavens, she sings of closing doors and windows gently as I go. That same sense of grabbing the moment prevails in “The Year of the Wrecking Ball,” a tale of a woman seeking meaning and revelation. The last refrain shifts from “she” to “we” in a cautionary way: We sing hallelujah/sing to the holes in the walls/sing for the light through the broken windows/and the year of the wrecking ball.


The lyrics of the “The Call” are somewhat cryptic, but it was written for her grandfather who died at 104, so we can assume that he did more than his share of sucking the marrow from the bone of life. In “Morning Mantra,” the album’s concluding song, Cotter suggests we open each new day with gratitude and walk the path of the good and strong. Perhaps that’s easier said than done on some mornings, but it’s not a bad goal.


I won’t tell you that Gently As I Go is a perfect album. The only real change of pace is her giddy and delightfully silly “Do You Love Me?” with its litany of promises you know will be broken. She sometimes sings Dylan covers in concert, which we don’t need on an album of her songs, but I suspect she performs them for exactly such mood-changing moments. I’d also recommend that, as convenient as MP3s are, you get an LP or CD of Gently as the narrow sound band of MP3 recordings make her articulation difficult to decipher in spots. (At the very least, download a lyrics sheet.) But I will say this; Caroline Cotter will soothe you like a breeze rustling through a shade tree.


Rob Weir


 *There are also videos of past material on YouTube.




The Island is Survivor For Keeps



By Adrian McKinty

Little, Brown & Company, 372 pages.




It’s not exactly the scoop of the year to observe that there’s not much reality in TV “reality” shows such as “Survivor.” They are scripted to exaggerate danger and are really intended to induce grossed-out reactions in viewers. “Contestants” are seldom imperiled, though they might get dirty and uncomfortable, perhaps even suffer a scrape or two. In short, “Survivor” is a game show disguised as humans versus nature.


One of the things that makes The Island an exciting thriller is that its characters are placed in extreme danger and death is a palpable possibility. It begins innocently enough. Tom Baxter is a successful and mildly arrogant surgeon attending a conference in Melbourne Australia. He is accompanied by his younger second wife Heather and his two kids, 12-year-old Owen and 14-year-old Olivia. Heather isn’t much more than a kid herself; she’s a 24-year-old Millennial, a trophy wife too young to be a stepmom and with little incentive to learn. Moreover, the kids are still emotionally hollowed out from the horrible Multiple Sclerosis death of their birth mother.


The very presence of Heather and the kids is Tom’s attempt to better acclimate Heather into the family and fast forward the healing process for Owen and Olivia. Maybe an outing to see koalas can brighten moods. He gets a tip, rents a flash car, and makes his way to a small ferry dock that will take the Baxters to Dutch Island. It’s a three-by-five mile hunk of land a mile and a half out to sea. Ivan, the ferryman, gives them a limited amount of time to look around, just 45 minutes, a privilege for which Tom shells out big money ($600 Australian, over $400 US). Ivan bluntly warns the Baxters and a Dutch family traveling to the island to steer clear of the O’Neill clan, Dutch Island’s only family.  


You pretty much know that something will go terribly wrong and it does. Tom drives too fast, thinks he hears a thump, and finds that he has run over a young girl. Panic City! He moves the body off the road and hides it in the grass, his plan being to get off the island before her corpse is found. Like that will happen! This sets up a clash with the O’Neills, who are lorded over Deliverance-style by Ma, who is stern and vicious. This is “Survivor” without any built-in safety nets. Will anyone get off the island alive? Will it help to split up until the ferry comes? Heather and the kids head one way, Tom a different direction, and Dutch family, which has no connection to the Baxters, hopes to reason with the O’Neills, one of whose members seems open to resolving problems without violence. That’s not Ma’s perspective; she’s out for blood and doesn’t care whose it is. Can she be swayed by a more reasonable family member? Can Heather trust Rory, an old man living on the site of a prison that shut down in the 1980s but isn’t related to the O’Neills? Which side is Ivan the ferryman on?


Did I mention that there is no food or known water source on Dutch Island? Or that there is no cell phone service, Wi-fi, or Internet? Insofar as those fleeing O’Neill wrath are concerned, there is little evidence that the island has been seriously inhabited since aborigines drew on the walls of a hidden cave.


You could label this novel by Adrian McKinty “Heather grows up.” Her father was in the military, and she tries to channel him to stay alive. This is indeed a thrilling novel. It’s not a perfect one; Owen and Olivia are sometimes unconvincingly savvy and precocious. I was also not convinced by an extremely unlikely detail in the resolution. The Island is however, a diverting story that’s much more convincing than “Survivor.” Put this one on your summer reading list.


Rob Weir


Wakanda Forever Doesn't Know What It Wants To Be


Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022)

Directed by Ryan Coogler

Marvel/Walt Disney Studios, 161 minutes, PG-13





Black Panther: Wakanda Forever made gobs of money, which guarantees there will be a third installment. Speaking from a critical perspective, that’s not a good thing. Wakanda Forever is a desultory effort stained by big-budget summer film clichés.


As most know, Chadwick Boseman was the original Black Panther. He tragically died of colon cancer, which certainly threw a monkey wrench into sequel plans. He appears in Wakanda Forever via stock footage that advances what one imagines was a rather hasty reimagining of the franchise. We see Shuri (Leticia Wright)  failing to recreate a heart-shaped herb to save her brother T'Challa (Boseman). This comes from the first film but as we know, the Black Panther died. The opening scenes of Wakanda Forever involve ritual mourning and Queen Ramonda’s (Angela Bassett) attempts to restore stability in her grieving homeland.


Fans know that Wakanda is a world power because it monopolizes a metal called vibranium, which allows scientific discoveries in advance of other nations. Queen Ramonda acts swiftly when she discovers that Western powers located vibranium on the ocean floor and are about to mine it. She also tongue lashes the United States and France who tried to condemn her actions at the United Nations. A greater challenge appears when an aquatic man with wings on his feet penetrates Wakanda’s defenses. He is Namor (Tenoch Huerta Mejia), the leader of the underwater Mayan kingdom of Talokan that he formed centuries ago after killing a group of Spanish enslavers. He is a demigod born of a mortal woman and the god K’uk’ulkan. Namor offers an alliance with Talokan against the rest of the world, but Ramonda curtly dismisses him.


Alas, Wakanda Forever takes an unfortunate turn. A mad scramble ensues in which the Wakandans learn that another vibranium-locating machine is in prototype. Okoye and Shuri lead a team to find its creator, Riri Williams (Dominique Thern), an MIT student whose advanced engineering project was taken over by the CIA and the US military. This allows the scriptwriters to reintroduce Everett Ross (Martin Freeman), a CIA agent friendly to Wakanda, whom we met in the first film. You name it and paint-by-the-numbers tropes enter the film. The CIA, the Navy, and Namor’s agents pursue the Wakandans and Riri around Cambridge and Boston. We get car chases with crashing police cars in a film in which Wakandans use sci-fi spaceships to move from one place to the other! Did someone accidentally splice Wakanda Forever into the classically bad 1968 film Bullitt?


Namor captures Shuri and tries to curry her support by showing her the splendors and power of his Atlantis-like underwater empire. She is impressed, but like Ramonda, senses that he might be an expansionist demagogue. She is allowed to leave but when Namor shows up again in Wakanda he delivers an ultimatum: join an alliance with Talokan or face destruction. Ramonda stands firm and the ensuing war leaves Wakanda ruined and on the verge of collapse. This section is more like Star Wars than the ridiculous car chase in Greater Boston. Queen Ramonda dismisses Okoye (Danai Gurira), her head of the military, but is killed by Namor.  Another ritual and then Wakanda must address its leadership void and rebuild its compromised defenses.


Spy reports from Nakia buy some time. The former War Dog  has been living in Haiti where she fled after her lover T’Challa’s death. She is a teacher who is also hiding the son T’Challa fathered. This serves to reintroduce her from the first film, but it seems more like padding than instrumental to the plot. This is decidedly the case of a side story involving Ross and his ex-wife Valentina (Julia Louise-Dreyfus), the head of the CIA, who is either coming on to her ex-husband or seeking to entrap him.


All of the above simply stalls Shuri’s attempts to manufacture a heart-shaped herb as Riri marvels (get it?) over Wakanda. Queue more clichés: a near-annihilation oceanic clash between the Mayans and the Wakandans followed by a mano e mano rock-smashing clash between Namor and the new Black Panther. I’ll bet you know who that it is! Wright is fierce, but she’s also thin as a rail and I don’t for a nano second buy her instant herb-induced strength.


If you’re looking ahead to installment three, Nakia’s son Toussaint has a Wakandan name: T’Challa. I’m done after the overly long Wakanda Forever, which felt like an eternity.


Rob Weir