Thea Hopkins, |
"American short-story folk" is what singer-songwriter Thea Hopkins specializes in: descriptions of slices of everyday life from various parts of the country. Reflective of the human experience, some of the images are positive and some are decidedly not. Many explore commonalities that we can all relate to, like leaving a hometown or falling in love.
Chickasaw (Hopkins' second album) has a definite Western flavor to it, beginning with an album cover photo that depicts a quintessential Rocky Mountain town. With named locales like Geary, Cherry Creek, Medicine Line, Chickasaw and Babylon, the vocals sound as if they take place out on the plains, with those mountains in distant sight. You get the impression they're many miles away from Hopkins' home outside of Boston, Mass.
Her original compositions include "Rows & Rows of Stars," "Once There was a Lover," "Little White Church," "Medicine Line," "The Weather Turns," "Chickasaw," "River of Fire" and "Before This Day." I like the light-heartedness of "Jenny Danced," which tells the story of a young ballerina who escapes the rigors of real life by immersing herself in dance. "The Edge of Geary" is a wistful look back at a town that everyone talks about leaving. And "Newspaper Wings" is yet another freedom song, revealing the past of a woman who defied conformity and took to the road because she "had places to see before day's end." Light accompaniment to Hopkins' vocals is supplied by a small group of musicians. The violin and cello interludes add to the folky, western edge of the music. But overall, the spotlight is definitely on Thea's words and her voice.
Her most serious piece here is "Jesus is on the Wire," which is dedicated to the memory of Matthew Shepard, the gay college student who was beaten and left to die along a roadside in Wyoming in October 1998. Peter, Paul & Mary recorded this song in 2004. "Sometimes at night you hear the sound / Of cars that stop where he was found / A small white cross, Wyoming skies / Mark the place where that boy died." It's eerie and yet a poignant reminder of the darker side of human nature that surfaces sporadically these days.
I like the spirit of independence in Thea Hopkins' lyrics, but some tales are just too dark for me to want to listen to over and over. I'm also not a big fan of her singing voice. Every sustained tone sounds a tad flat to my ears. But maybe that's just me. Perhaps, like select others before her, Hopkins' strength lies solely in her pen and not in personal performance. In recent years, she's won a number of ASCAP Plus awards for songwriting. Listening to her melodies and lyrics, it's easy to see why.
Corinne H. Smith
31 May 2008
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