Barbara Phaneuf,
Hat Full of Diamonds
(Ripe Tomatoes, 2000)

Hat Full of Diamonds is Barbara Phanuef's second CD, and it's a good one. She's a skillful songwriter and an equally effective singer and musician, as demonstrated by this album of twelve all-original songs in a variety of styles.

I like the way modern folk music can focus on some of the small specifics of life and find the universal therein. Phaneuf does a wonderful job of this. Some of them are gently humorous, like the two Latin-flavored songs here: "Visa" describes the temptation of credit and its result in a style reminiscent of a samba ballad, while "Chips" is a livelier look at Phaneuf's passion for Tex-mex food.

"Made in the Shade" is a perfect summer song, nostalgic without being sad and with an infectious funk groove -- a wonderful blend of music, lyrics and meaning. "Simple Pleasures" is also nostalgic, a country song recalling times spent singing just for fun.

"Coming Home to You" is sadder, sung by a traveller longing for home, but knowing she'll return soon, and "Set Things Right" brought tears to my eyes with its descriptions of life's details can get in the way of time spent with those we love.

Phaneuf draws on the blues, too with "Hat Full of Diamonds," "Road Maps and an Old Car" and "No Time for These Blues." All these styles make for a varied and enjoyable album as well as displaying the wide range of Phaneuf's talent.

The liner notes are great, with complete lyrics to each of the songs -- and in a size that makes them easy to read! It's one of the nicest designs I've seen recently, from outfits large or small. Lyrics are especially valuable in an album by a singer-songwriter, and I was happy to see them included here.

Hat Full of Diamonds is a wonderful CD, and those who appreciate modern folk will enjoy it a lot. The musical variety and the skillful songwriting set off Phaneuf's voice and playing, and the skills of the other musicians. I'm pleased to have encountered her work and know I'll be listening to this album often in the future -- and I hope to hear her live someday!

[ by Amanda Fisher ]
Rambles: 10 November 2001