"Songs to Hang on Stars"

Azalea City

If Takoma Park singer-songwriter Mary Sue Twohy wins another Wammie for "Songs to Hang on Stars," she'll have poet Emily Dickinson to thank, among others.

Hope, that "thing with feathers," as Dickinson famously put it, is one of the album's recurring themes. On the opening (and title) track, Twohy sings: "We are living on a star / Shining hope for someone far / Touch the earth and know / Somewhere, out there, we all glow." All the while, her lovely soprano shines, too.

That verse was composed by Twohy, but her best lyrics have less to do with a cosmic brand of optimism than with human relationships, the subject at the heart of her haunting refrain in "Baltimore" and the narrative ballads "Missionary Ridge" and "The Ghost of Matt McCann" (both co-written by Daniel Greenberg). Twohy also uses three Dickinson poems to create additional layers of emotional depth and an otherworldly coda (via "Because I Could Not Stop for Death"). As a result, what initially comes across as a fanciful pop-folk album ends up sounding far more intriguing and complex.

What's more, save for the a cappella rendering of "The Ghost of Matt McCann," the arrangements emphasize a neatly tailored array of shimmering tones, vocal harmonies and languid pulses. But then, given a lineup that includes Scott Smith, Jon Carroll, and Pete and Maura Kennedy, that's not surprising.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Monday at St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Rockville.

Mary Sue Twohy mines the work of Emily Dickinson to explore issues of hope and relationships.