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Barbara Phaneuf

Barbara Phaneuf
Hat Full of Diamonds
2000, Ripe Tomatoes Music

Barbara Phaneuf has been a regular on the New England folk circuit since the 1970’s. She says, "I’m an aging folk singer! I’ve been playing for over thirty years. I can’t believe it. My big brother taught me how to play the guitar. He took me to Woodstock when I was sixteen and it totally got me excited about music in a big way." Phaneuf began her musical career playing in bands and in duos, and finally tried performing solo for a while. She turned to writing and producing musical theatre in the 1980’s. Then she says, laughing, "I went into waitressing." She explained, "I had to deal with a lot of inner issues. A lot of spiritual work needed to be done on this person here! It’s brought me back to music full time." She added, "Music is healing not only for me, but whomever I play for. It’s unbelievable how it touches to the deepest, deepest core." After a long absence from the coffeehouse scene, Phaneuf is re-establishing herself as a solo act.

Releasing her first CD, Good Company, in 1997, Phaneuf proved her commitment to music and began to amass a loyal group of fans across New England. She is now celebrating the release of her second CD, Hat Full of Diamonds. The album features a delightful collection of twelve songs recorded with Seth Connelly at his studio in Brookline, New Hampshire. Phaneuf says, "It was definitely time to make another album! My first one came out in 1997, so it was due. I basically recorded the ten best songs from material I had written over the three years following my first CD. I also included a couple of old humorous songs ("Chips" and "Visa") that go over well with audiences."

Phaneuf stirs a bit of folk, country, blues and more into her songwriting mix on the new album. It’s easy-going and a pleasure to listen to. Phaneuf says she tries to "convey lessons learned or ways I find strength in the simplicity of things" on the new album with songs "which are basically comments on life, past and present."

She delivers with ease and comfort. Phaneuf's songs are uplifting, optimistic and positive throughout the album. She says, "I want to leave people feeling good. I’m just shedding light on life in a different way." One of the most moving songs on the album is "Yankee Clipper Sails Again," [RealAudio clip from] a tribute to Phaneuf’s mother and her life. Phaneuf says, "It came about when we had to move her into a nursing home because of Alzheimer's. We dismantled her house and each of us took some treasures. I have this beautiful embroidery she did in the '40's, when she was pregnant with her first child. It's a World War II scene of a clipper ship and transport plane coming over the mountains. It's entitled, "The American Clipper Sails Again." So that image is the centerpiece of the song. And it begins in the present with her new surroundings in the nursing home, going back through her life to her birth. It's like the progression of Alzheimer's—memories are lost from the present and the sufferers are often propelled back into their childhood."

The title song, "Hat Full of Diamonds," Phaneuf says, "is about that precious moment in life when you make the leap of faith to do what you really want to do—a fork in the road song." In a sense, Phaneuf has taken a leap of faith to follow her muse and we are all richer for it.—Sara Barss

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