Chasing Cloud Shadows
(Back Seat Boys, 2003)
Thomasina's latest album opens with the sound of sun chasing away the clouds, driving them over grassy fields and through whispering trees. That sound is captured through a dulcimer put to excellent use, and it joins with a fine vocalist and strong assistance to keep the skies clear through the appropriately titled Chasing Cloud Shadows.
The dulcimer is a living river of sound, by turns wild and placid, but always a natural force powering the songs. Only Thomasina's voice could steal its limelight, and does. Her simple, layered arrangements offer some confines to the breadth of the dulcimer, and she lets her vocals roam past those banks. There are no divaesque wailings here, only innocent explorations and harmonious play with the lyrics.
The mood is set by the tracks chosen for the album. Weighted with inspirational hymns and balanced with bright daydream poetry, the album almost can't help being cheerful. Too many albums that try for the inspirational achieve merely the saccharine, and songs like "Swimming to the Other Side" and the original piece "I am Grateful" lend themselves to oversimplified sweetness. But this is an informed joy, born of careful thought into the problems of life. Thomasina's voice reflects an honest awe at the small glories of life without belittling the difficulties, adding a surprising depth even to old standards.
Perhaps the most impressively altered song is "Circles." It takes more than a style change to reclaim a Joni Mitchell song, and this version is delivered in a straight, dulcimer-rich folk version that would seem to offer little in the way of new touches. But the vocals give the often bittersweet song a new brightness, softening the sting of the song's promised mortality and drawing attention to the richness of the promised seasons waiting to be discovered. It makes for a startlingly moving piece, reflecting the album as a whole.
The instrumental tracks don't achieve the power of the songs, but are very pretty pieces, and provide something of a necessary relief after the flooded emotions of "Circles" or "Till the Dark Greets the Dawn." The particular style of dulcimer playing featured on the album can't quite convey the somber grace of "Father James's Song," but it does a fine job with the medley "Butterfly/Black Dog Bites" and the opening dance of "Chasing Cloud Shadows."
As open a collection as this is, there's a sense of restraint, a wilder side only flirted with in "Little Red Rocking Chair" and the softened notes of defiance in "A Commonplace Life." It provides enticing reasons to seek out Thomasina's other albums, but doesn't restrict the expansive atmosphere of Chasing Cloud Shadows. This is a fine album for fans of the dulcimer's sweeter side, or anyone looking to chase the shadows from their sky.