A beautifully crafted Western concept album, Out West Somewhere is complete with hopeful frontiersmen, homesick families, disoriented travelers, broken down cowboys, and ornery outlaws all soaking into the expansive plains which house them.

McCandless shows himself to be a rather eclectic songwriter, as well as excellent guitarist, with the rolling fingerpicked guitar of the optimistically apprehensive title track, the strange imagery and foreboding viola of "Christopher," and the country-blues guitar workout of "Lowdown Yankee Liar." The sing-songy satire of a self-confident star in "It May Go On Without Me" has a definite Irish folk feel in both phrasing and melody, just as "The Drunken Brawl" strongly calls to mind the chaotic sprawl of the classic Irish tune "Johnny McAldoo." John Williams' sympathetic accordion works well in underscoring the characters in transition in the lilting "King of the Mugs," with Williams returning to contribute a wooden whistle instrumental in "The Black Rose." Deserving the equal billing she receives, Julianne Macarus adds perfect violin to many tracks, with her mandolin, pianolin and viola further filling out the rather sparse sound.

Occasionally complementing McCandless' light croon with her own ethereal backup vocals, Macarus' contributions can't be overlooked. Using a vibrant economy of words, McCandless effortlessly portrays the sense of awe felt by those settling down in the openness of the West for the first time in "One Rock," just as the gossip surrounding the outlaw in "Tom Horn" puts the listener in the middle of the fearful town. Such are the tangible, often strange images that McCandless employs that make Out West Somewhere a fully realized concept.

Matt Fink
-All Music Guide