Best Music for Resolutions


DESTINATIONS: the American West, Scotland, Appalachian Mountains, Indiana


  • Tony Duncan,  Native Son [Canyon Records] (Available on January 21, 2014)
  • Catriona McKay, Tony McManus, and a whole bunch of other musicians, Celtic Airs & Reflective Melodies [Greentrax Recordings]
  • Al Petteway and Amy White Winter Tidings (Maggies Music]
  • Carrie Newcomer Kindred Spirits [Rounder Records]

By Kerry Dexter

Do you make resolutions at the new year? Perhaps you make resolutions on New Year’s Day, or New year’s Eve. I’ve a friend who makes resolutions at the winter solstice on 21 December, and another who chooses the turning of the Celtic year around the end of October. I tend to use Advent, the four weeks before Christmas, as a time when I think about resolutions. Maybe you do not make resolutions at all.

Chance are, though, that you do look forward toward where you’re going and look back at where you’ve been. Perhaps you think about it as setting goals, making resolutions, creating intentions, or planning for what’s ahead. The time when the calendar turns from one year to the next is often a reminder of the need for such reflection and an inspiration for doing it. Music can be a good companion.

American West

Tony Duncan knows the landscapes of the American west in his bones. He is of Apache and Mandan –Hidatsa –Arikara heritage. His instrument is the Native American wooden flute. On his album Native Son, Duncan offers songs of family, songs of landscape, original and traditional songs which invite and share reflection.

“Flowing through the mighty rivers and streams a song is heard if you listen closely,” Duncan says, “ the sound of the sun rising in the east and setting to the west, the call of the cactus wren in the desert and the call of the elk in the high country. If you listen closely you can hear life in all its wonder.” He makes music inspired by these ideas in pieces called Evening Meadows, Sacred Mountain, Stories Upon Stone, Eagle Has Blessed Us, and others. He ends this collection with his take on the hymn Amazing Grace. [Here is a sample of Duncan playing with his group Esttun-Bah at the 2009 Santa Fe Indian Market.]


Across the water in Scotland, you might at first think of the skirl of bagpipes leading marches and dancers’ feet flying to lively jigs and reels. There is an equally  long tradition of music for the quiet side of life in Scotland as well. The people of Greentrax Recordings decided to put together an album of just such music, which they’ve called Celtic Airs & Reflective Melodies

They’ve gathered music which traverses the landscapes of Scotland, played on fiddle, harp, guitar, pipes, and other instruments by many of Scotland’s musicians. Harp player Catriona McKay took inspiration from a trip on a sailing vessel for her tune called The Swan, while piper Jimmy Young composed Denny’s Air on first meeting his wife Denny. Guitarist Tony McManus turned to an air Robert Burns used to make his song Ye Banks and Ye Braes.


As you read the title of Winter Tidings: An Appalachian Christmas you might be thinking but wait: it’s not Christmas. The gifts of the Christmas season — hope, love, faith, courage, change, challenge, forgiveness, trust, to name several — are ones to carry forward through the year. These elements of the story persist and are good things to consider as you make plans, set goals, and make resolutions.

Al Petteway and Amy White, who live in the Appalachian mountains, use guitar, bouzouki, dulcimer, keyboards, and other instruments to create a collection of traditional and instrumental music which evokes reflection and the quiet side of the winter season. If the Christmas story is not part of your faith, still, this is album which reaches across boundaries of faith to the essentials which connect us — and which are good things to have along when making resolutions and setting goals.

Midwestern U.S.

Carrie Newcomer, who draws deep inspiration from her native ground in Indiana writes songs which take these things into account, songs which invite reflection and suggest good questions. On her album Kindred Spirits she’s included songs from across her career in music “but I decided not to do it chronologically,” she says. “I wanted to do it as I would a set list for a concert, with ideas and melodies flowing into each other.”

Some are songs she’s recorded before, including the story of friendship in The Gathering of Spirits and the gifts of ordinary things in Holy as a Day is Spent and others are new, including The Long Christmas Dinner and a new version of an old favorite about how to walk in the world through trust called Bare to the Bone. She begins the collection with a new song called The Speed of Soul. In that song Newcomer considers an idea she heard in a Native American story, that at times we travel faster than ours souls can go, that we need to take time to slow down and catch up with our own selves.

As you are considering making resolutions and setting goals, making plans and setting intentions, that’s a good idea to have in mind.

Note: It is the policy of A Traveler’s Library to let you know about affiliate links.  There are links in this article to Amazon, where you can listen to bits of the album, and do your shopping if you wish. It does not cost you any more, and you will be benefiting Music Road and A Traveler’s Library.

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About Kerry Dexter

Kerry Dexter is a regular contributor to A Traveler’s Library, bringing her knowledge of music and musicians who share a sense of place and travel. Her work also appears in Journey to Scotland and the Encyclopedia of Ireland and the Americas, among other places. Check out her bio on the contributor’s page to learn more and see her site at Music Road.

2 thoughts on “Best Music for Resolutions

  1. Two of these are totally new to me, so I see I need to do some exploring. But I particularly want to say how glad I am you mentioned Tony Duncan. I have heard him play his flute and perform his hoop dances. He is a terrific performer, and I am mesmerized by his music.

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