Monique Barrett’s new 5-song CD, “Steps” is haunting, spiritual, rootsy and honest. Elements of Americana, bluegrass, gospel and folk complete this really solid and exemplary work of art. With a gorgeous and true blue voice, this “salt of the earth” gal strikes me as someone who plays things quite close to her heart, and then bleeds it out in song.

“For the Best,” is a perfect opening song for the album. Dressed all in lullaby fashion, she coos and croons about two children, a boy and a girl, and expresses her love and devotion with every gentle note and heartfelt lyric in the way only a mother can.

“What Would You Do,” is a waltzy, breezy song that brings about a gospel feeling. This tune conjures up the earnest soul of the deep South. Its organ-induced slow, aching burn and lyrics of lost love and yearning made me feel transported back to a 1950s Louisiana Baptist church, with the star of the choir bringing the house of God down, not in fire and brimstone fashion, but in alluring and merciful style.

A short, three-minute song stands out in the middle of “Steps.” With its banjo-picking good-natured assertiveness, this song seems to be Barrett’s exclamation to the world that she is her own person, “doing the best she can” in the face of all the questions and complexities of life. This tune ends with a lovely Eagles-inspired harmony, complete with some very beautiful “oohs and aahs,” making the song complete.

“Take Your Name,” is a shuffling, stand-up bass-driven song, a nice change in pace. With lyrics like “I thank you for finally showing me you don’t deserve my heart’s energy/I’ve spent too many nights praying that you were alright when it’s clear you don’t care about me,” I think Barrett has come into her own.

Rounding out the album is the upbeat and spiritual “Make it Better,” which brings the whole experience full circle for the listener.

With her wide-range voice, angelic and soaring, Barrett eventually breaks into some scat singing, proving her prowess as a singer and asserting the heartfelt emotion she puts into her music.

Behind her is a choir, accentuating the happy and optimistic feeling the album hints at.

Succinctly put, Monique Barrett’s new CD gave me chills, and that’s not something that happens too often. So I will sit and enjoy it and spread the word the best way I know how, right here in black and white.

Kristin DiCara-McClellan is a Portland freelance writer. Contact her at:

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