Thea calls it "Red Roots Americana." The phrase weds her Wampanoag and Cherokee ancestry with the genre of music she loves best. It is a fresh stamp on Americana: there's a twang at its heart, but the voice evinces no regional trace. The words "Red Roots Americana" also reflect the sturdy virtues that have been native to American popular music from the Gershwin Brothers to the Stanley Brothers.
Thea's new 6 song EP "Lilac Sky" represents a departure from the contemporary folk that marked her first two albums. The rip-it-up sound also departs from the topical balladry that inspired Peter, Paul & Mary to record her work. (Her song "Jesus Is On The Wire" was recorded by P, P & M in both 2004 and 2010. ) "Lilac Sky" features pianist Tim Ray (Lyle Lovett), guitarist Peter Parcek (Blues Foundation Award nominee), drummer Mike Piehl (Chris Smither, Peter Wolf) and bassist Paul Kochanski (the Swinging Steaks). Four of the songs are sparked by substantial contributions from Thea's current guitarist/mandola player, Andy Hollinger, and former guitarist, Cameron Peterson. Country-rock singer/songwriter Susan Cattaneo adds harmony vocals. The two covers -- Marianne Faithfull's "When I Find My Life" and Linda and Teddy Thompson's "Do Your Best For Rock and Roll" -- are strikingly personal interpretations.
Hopkins' debut album, "Birds of Mystery," was named one of the Top Ten local albums of the year by the Boston Herald: "A gorgeous dusky voice wraps itself like mist around country-folk songs of tenderness and substance."
“Thea Hopkins is one of the most literate, poetic and emotionally moving of the new singer-songwriters to arrive on the scene in the last few years." -- Peter, Paul & Mary
The 2007 CD, "Chickasaw" received a 4 star review from Maverick, UK.
"Thea Hopkins possesses a voice that stands up to her material," wrote the website Americana-UK. "This is folk as it should be: dark tales, poetry and protest.” "It's a voice with the mystery and power of the late, great Nick Drake.” -- Susan Werner
Thea comes from a mixed-ethnic heritage. She is a member of the Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah, Martha's Vineyard. She also boasts African-American, Irish, French, Portuguese and Cherokee ancestry.
Thea has opened for Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Richie Havens, Maura O'Connell, John Hammond, Ellis Paul, Susan Werner, Brooks Williams and Katy Moffatt. Thea has performed at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts Remus Auditorium, Club Passim, Johnny D's, the Uncommon Ground in Chicago, the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, the Sundance Film Festival in Utah, The Coffee Gallery in the L.A. area, and at Cornelia Street and The Bitter End in New York City. She's received airplay on WFUV-FM, WUMB-FM and WERS-FM among many others.
Thea Hopkins - Guitar & Vocals
Andy Hollinger - Guitar & mandola
Lilac Sky - Feb 2013 release
Chickasaw - 2007
Birds of Mystery - 2001
Might've Stayed In Memphis
Mississippi River, Mississippi Town
whatcha gonna do
Jesus Is On The Wire
Rows & Rows of Stars
Thea Hopkins - 'Lilac Sky' - review (9/10) - Whisperin and Hollerin - March 2013
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Review: 'HOPKINS, THEA' 'Lilac Sky' - Label: 'Self-released' - G...Review: 'HOPKINS, THEA'
- Label: 'Self-released'
- Genre: 'Alt/Country' - Release Date: 'March 2013'
‘Lilac Sky’ is the latest release from Boston singer/songwriter THEA HOPKINS and is her third release to date. However, this six track mini album marks a departure from the contemporary folk music of her first two albums. Here, instead, we have six tracks of pure Americana, although Thea describes it as: "Native Americana" which reflects her Wampanoag and Cherokee ancestry.
The first track ‘Might’ve Stayed in Memphis’ showcases all that’s great about this album. It's a country track that gets a bit rockier on the chorus with musicianship that blends acoustic and steel guitars. This chugs along very nicely with Thea’s lyrics working well on the theme of being in one place far too long, and the need to move on: -“Woke up this morning the sky was soaked in grey/Heard a street preacher yelling pray, pray, pray/ Looked out my window, saw the bridge to Arkansas/ I might've stayed in Memphis too long...Something tells me it's time to move on."
This starts the album on a high note and plays to Thea’s strengths. She is an excellent songwriter with a memorably vivid line in lyrics and a fine ear for melody. These abilities shine on the title track of the album, ‘Lilac Sky’, a rock ‘n’ roll song that has a real relevance to those who have been worn down by work, hardship and life in general: - “Lilac Sky turning black/ A train rolls down a railroad track
Streets so narrow where we fall, Into each other's arms/ Windows rattle like tambourines, In this hotel sitting between Blue highways, blue mountaintops."
Thea also excels on the final track, the doomy ‘Watcha Gonna Do?’ a well textured country song which blends guitars and mandola perfectly. Whilst the subject matter is depressing, it should strike a chord instantly with any fans of Woody Guthrie: - “Sun rises up, red as rust, On this town that's gone bust Company here said good bye/ Cleared out in record time...A hole in this town where the jobs disappear."
This is a song in which you can almost taste the hopelessness, the grit and dust in people’s mouths as they try to eke out a living from day to day. It's a hard-bitten way for the album to end, but lyrically it is a spectacular tour de force. Thea Hopkins recently won the first place in American Songwriter magazine’s lyric contest and on the strength of this, I can only concur that such an accolade was richly deserved.
author: Nick Browne
Thea Hopkins Lilac Sky
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Thea Hopkins has a wonderfully sonorous voice, husky and full of character. She sounds as though she...Thea Hopkins has a wonderfully sonorous voice, husky and full of character. She sounds as though she was made for country music and this mini-album is some of the best country I’ve heard in ages. Thea Hopkins wrote one of the biggest country hits in years ‘Jesus Is On The Wire’ so she has plenty of history.
She has moved away from the folk of her first recordings and her band features Lyle Lovett’s piano player Tim Ray as well as Mike Piehl who has spent time with Peter Wolf as well as Chris Smither. An old favourite of mine, Susan Cattaneo, supplys backing and harmony vocals.
The six songs on this set are mainly self-written and the title track is a stonking piece of country rock but her version of ‘Do Your Best For Rock And Roll’ with a simple bass and piano backing is gorgeous – slow and intense and completely compelling.
A true country singer, rather than C&W, and if that is your ‘thing’ this is a very fine little set.
FAME Review: Thea Hopkins - Lilac Sky Feb 2013
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Thea Hopkins has one of those voices you can get lost in. Whether she is singing one of her original...Thea Hopkins has one of those voices you can get lost in. Whether she is singing one of her original ballads, performing a cover by Marianne Faithfull, or turning on her torch and mysterious side, she beguiles, charms, and sings the heck out of every tune.
Lilac Sky is her third recording. It's an EP of six songs: four original tunes and 2 covers. It is a departure from her previous work in that it moves away from the folk-oriented ballad into the realm of rootsy Americana and alternative country.
There are some very fine musicians at work here including Lyle Lovett's pianist Tim Ray and the Swinging Steaks' bassist, Paul Kochanski. But it is Thea we have come to hear, and Thea who captivates us with that inimitable voice.
The EP opens with Might've Stayed in Memphis Too Long, which dips into the territory of country rock. Peter Parcek provides some tasty licks on electric guitar, and singer Susan Cattaneo is sublime on harmony vocals. Get your country on and dig into this upbeat tune.
The title track, Lilac Sky, is a genre bending rock song with Chris Smither/Peter Wolf drummer, Mike Piehl, cranking out the beat alongside Parcek's guitar leading the rhythm. Thea's voice rings out on the chorus: "angels have wings to fly/and baby so do I." And we are off and running with a tune that will get you up on your feet.
Linda and Teddy Thompson's Do Your Best for Rock and Roll get the Thea Hopkins touch in a country ballad both sweet and poignant, tracking a singer whom has all but hit bottom in a life lived out in bars on the road. Tim Ray sprinkles just the right amount of blues accompaniment on this standout tune.
The closing song is an original called Watcha Gonna Do. It addresses the loss of the town's major employer, and the jobs that disappeared along with it. Andy Hollinger accompanies Thea on a superbly played mandola .
Lilac Sky is a wonderful addition to the Thea Hopkins discography. It adds a little bit of country, a little bit of rock, and a whole lot of Americana to her growing catalog of songs. But what separates Thea from the pack of independent music artists performing on the circuit today is her voice and her ability to connect with a lyric, whether it is her own or a cover. She wraps that dusky, expressive voice around the words of any tune she sings, and takes the listener directly inside its emotional center. Lilac Sky, with only six songs to its name, leaves us begging for more. Good singers can cover any tune; only great ones make them memorable. Thea Hopkins is one of the greats.
Might've Stayed in Memphis
Do Your Best for Rock and Roll (Linda & Teddy Thompson)
Down by the Water
When I Find My Life (Marianne Faithfull & Barry Reynolds)
Watcha Gonna Do?
All songs written by Thea Hopkins except where noted.
THEA HOPKINS - LILAC SKY (EP) Review January 2013
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Unlike her two previous albums "Birds Of Mystery" from 2001 and "Chickasaw" in 2007, the singer and ...Unlike her two previous albums "Birds Of Mystery" from 2001 and "Chickasaw" in 2007, the singer and songwriter Thea Hopkins of Boston, Massachusetts on her third album - the ep "Lilac Sky" - more than ever looking for a good sounding melody in the six songs on this album were recorded.
Connoisseurs of you may remember that Thea Hopkins was the author of the song "Jesus Is On The Wire" in 2004 by folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary "in the charts was sung, and a place was on their album" In These Times ". Her reputation as a lyricist mindful spent the Cherokee Indian-originating artist too much attention to the words they came to these songs, substantively meaningful and creative melodic.
With her unique voice, she works effortlessly through songs like "Might've Stayed In Memphis", the uptempo transferred title track "Lilac Sky" (see video) and the smooth country songs "Down By The Water" and "Whatcha Gonna Do?".
Four songs on this EP were composed by Thea Hopkins himself and two other songs she chose from the repertoire of other notorious female singer-songwriters. So she brings a highly personal interpretation of "When I Find My Life" by Marianne Faithfull, who number themselves first brought on her CD "A Perfect Stranger: The Island Anthology" from 1998.
Totally against the expectations created by the title, the second cover "Do Your Best For Rock And Roll" not nice groovy song, but a beautiful, understated singing jazzy piano ballad. It is therefore in our opinion the best song on this ep, all the way a song that immediately after the first listening to our iPod was placed. It's a song that was written by Teddy Thompson and his mother Linda Thompson. The ex-wife of Richard Thompson recorded this song for her album "Versatile Heart" from 2007. The beautiful piano work on this song is from Tim Ray, a man who earned his spurs as a supervisor of Lyle Lovett.
A great voice, his own compositions to 'you' to say, with love songs selected to retreading, which is our final conclusion about "Lilac Sky" by Thea Hopkins. With the hope that we soon another full album of her must look forward, we close our story about this ep satisfied with this off.
Thea Hopkins 'Lilac Sky' - Review Jan 2013
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Sunday, January 6, 2013 at 06:58AM The music on this e.p. belongs to a woman with a voice that has ...Sunday, January 6, 2013 at 06:58AM
The music on this e.p. belongs to a woman with a voice that has some life and love for her art in it. It has a richness beyond some of the more lightweight voices that are associated with country music on the radio these days.Thea Hopkins latest release is that increasingly frequent format the e.p. Not quite an album, but more than a single, it allows an artist to release some product without having to make a full album and is a handy touring item. Two of the six tracks here are covers. She does a good job of Linda and Teddy Thompson Do Your Best For Rock And Roll, a song full of yearning and hope and likewise puts some meaning into her cover of the Marianne Faithful/Barry Reynolds song When I Find My Life. She has gathered some good players around her for the recording. There are three guitarists featured all play with conviction but Andy Hillinger's twang on Hopkins' Down By The Water giving the song a cutting edge and a stamp of Americana. The rhythm section are solid and Tim Ray's piano is used effectively. As a writer Hopkins reveals a depth and an understanding in her songs like Might've Stayed In Memphis and with the title song. Thea Hopkins joins the ranks of singer/songwriters whose role is to perfect their craft rather that redefine it. But she does so with enough of her own identity that these six tracks leave you curious to hear more. That in itself is an achievement that makes Lilac Sky a pretty good reason to have made it and an equally good reason to listen to it.
Thea Hopkins 'Lilac Sky' - Review- jan 2013
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THEA HOPKINS "Lilac Sky" (Thea Hopkins) What Goethe claimed once again? Right, yeah ... In der Be...THEA HOPKINS "Lilac Sky" (Thea Hopkins)
What Goethe claimed once again? Right, yeah ... In der Beschränkung zeigt sich der Meister. And exactly that premise seems to Boston for a while making serious headway carpentry income singing songwriter Thea Hopkins is envisioned to have taken in response to its new litter "Lilac Sky". Rather boast a modest handful of good songs, then with a CD filled to the brim with a lot of chaff among the wheat, she seems to have thought beforehand. And so there shine on her second CD only six songs together account for just under twenty-two minutes music. Four of them wrote them yourself, the other two appear covers. The delicious, though in a version of Linda Thompson known country tug "Do Your Best For Rock And Roll" and more specifically of the Marianne Faithfull and Barry Reynolds pinned "When I Find My Life". Two songs, which Hopkins especially her great talents as a singer showcases. A truly crystal clear voice appears to have them there. Very efficient too! And that is certainly also for her writing hand. In witness thereof: with its "Native Americana" she recently primarily poaching in the authoritative magazine American Songwriter written songs competition. A very good result! And one that makes righteous also things like the catchy country tune "Might've Stayed In Memphis", the equally smoothly out of the starting blocks shooting "Lilac Sky", the closer understanding more on atmosphere inzettende "Down By The Water" and especially the bit more folk oriented beauty "Whatcha Gonna Do?". Each of songs that absolutely must be heard!
Everone Loves A Mixed Girl
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EVERYONE LOVES A MIXED GIRL by Julia R. DeStefano “I am definitely not in the acoustic folk ba...EVERYONE LOVES A MIXED GIRL
by Julia R. DeStefano
“I am definitely not in the acoustic folk bag anymore. I thought of a phrase like “The love child of Buffy Sainte-Marie and Lyle Lovett” or “The offspring of Patsy Cline and Nick Lowe.” I’ve also considered “Native Americana” as a catch-phrase, and a nod to my Native American roots.” ~Thea Hopkins
Noise: In the beginning, what led you to pursue music? Was there a catalyst of some sort?
Thea: It was a gradual evolution. I was fortunate to have grown up in an artsy home. My mother was a commercial artist and encouraged my creative interests. I wrote a lot of poetry and studied both violin and viola. I was encouraged to pursue my classical training but lost interest, oh, somewhere around puberty. I then studied and performed ballet and modern dance for many years, but I was spellbound by the sound of an acoustic guitar, so I eventually picked one up. It is still a never-ending mystery to me, a mystery that I am still trying to unravel.
Noise: Can you share your musical history, including your involvement in past bands?
Thea: I am a performing songwriter. I went to Berklee and focused on composition. Then I took a break from music, and came back to it about twelve years ago. I didn’t learn to really sing until I was an adult. I studied with an excellent classical teacher, Marilyn Evans. I also studied guitar with the gifted guitarist and teacher, John Curtis. As a teacher, he’s probably best known for teaching and inspiring Patty Griffin, who is one of my favorites. I learned a lot from John. I was very lucky that one of my songs, “Jesus Is On the Wire,” was recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary on their last studio album in 2004, and again in 2010 on a live album with the Prague Symphony Orchestra.
Guitarist Andy Hollinger has been performing with me on a regular basis over the last couple years.
The two most thrilling musical accomplishments for me in 2012 was opening up for Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, a true American legend, at the Museum of Fine Arts’ Remis Auditorium this past May, and winning first prize in the Americana Songwriter Magazine’s lyric writing contest for my song “Chickasaw,” which is the title track of my last album. The prize was a truly beautiful-sounding Gibson guitar. You can see a photo of me proudly displaying it in the photo (on this page). The reason I look so transcendently happy is because it had arrived in the mail just minutes before the photo was snapped. It was a guitar I had dreamed about, down to the very model.
Noise: Who were (and are) some of your influences? I imagine you have many. In what ways, if any, do you incorporate them into your music?
Thea: My first musical influences were folk artists: Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and Leonard Cohen. Recently, I have been listening to a great Bert Jansch collection.
In recent years, I’ve moved more in an Americana direction with Johnny Cash, Rosanne Cash, John Hiatt, Hank Williams, Lyle Lovett, and K.D. Lang, who are among my favorites.
Noise: How do you write your songs? Is there a particular process that you go through?
Thea: It varies. Sometimes, a melody will come to me and that will be the starting point. Other times, I will start with a title and build from there. I keep a tape recorder and notebook by my bed because it isn’t uncommon for me to wake up with a melody or words in my head. I have literally dreamed songs. Catch them, or lose them forever! Once I get the essence of a song down, I work it, and work it for a long period of time. I throw out much of what I come up with as far as lyrics go. I’m a perfectionist. My model is Leonard Cohen, who sometimes works on a single song for years.
Noise: How has your songwriting progressed stylistically and lyrically since the days of your previous albums?
Thea: My first CD, Birds of Mystery, was released in 2001. It was a well-recorded album but a little too ambitious—going in too many directions. My 2007 CD, Chickasaw, was more focused with better writing and a more rootsy sound, but it was still within the contemporary folk genre. My upcoming EP, Lilac Sky, to be released in January, is much more Americana—upbeat, rockier, more twangy and rootsy. More rip it up. It was recorded slowly, over the course of a year, but it sounds very live and hot. It contains the instrumental work of pianist Tim Ray (Lyle Lovett), guitarist Peter Parcek, Blues Foundation award nominee, drummer Mike Piehl (Chris Smither, Peter Wolf), and bassist Paul Kochanski (the Swinging Steaks). Four of the songs feature substantial contributions from my current guitarist/mandola player, Andy Hollinger, and former guitarist, Cameron Peterson. Country rock singer-songwriter Susan Cattaneo adds harmony vocals to two of my songs, “Lilac Sky” and “Might’ve Stayed in Memphis.” Pat DiCenso engineered and mixed the CD. It was a fantastic experience working with all these folks. Ed Valauskas at Q Division treats you right.
Noise: How would you describe your style to someone who hasn’t heard your music?
Thea: My style is Americana, rootsy folk. I’ve been trying to come up with a slogan to replace the one I used on my previous album, “American Short Story Folk,” a nod to my storytelling songs and narrative instincts. My new songs still tell tales, but they’re more pared down and rhythmic, with prominent electric guitar and a molten-hot rhythm section. I am definitely not in the acoustic folk bag anymore. I thought of a phrase like “The love child of Buffy Sainte Marie and Lyle Lovett” or “The offspring of Patsy Cline and Nick Lowe.” I’ve also considered “Native Americana” as a catch phrase, and a nod to my Native American roots. I’m about half-Indian, a member of the Wampanoag tribe of Acquinnah (Gay Head) on Martha’s Vineyard. My uncle was the tribe’s chief, a post now held by my cousin. I am also of African American, Irish, Portuguese, and French heritage, and consider myself to be mixed race. I have a T-shirt that reads: “Everybody Loves a Mixed Girl,” though I have found that, in the music biz, it is often easier to be labeled with one ethnic or national heritage. Simple definitions are convenient shortcuts in the music business.
Noise: What is next for you?
Thea: My new EP, Lilac Sky, is coming out in January 2013. It was recorded at Q Division in Somerville. I am starting to book dates for the New Year.
Noise: Do you have any words for younger folk following in your footsteps?
Thea: Follow your bliss and have a good day job.
Boston Globe Editor's Pick
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A long-running New York City acoustic series travels to Boston, courtesy of its founder, Valerie Ghe...A long-running New York City acoustic series travels to Boston, courtesy of its founder, Valerie Ghent. Also appearing are local artist Thea Hopkins, fresh off a victory in a recent American Songwriter magazine lyric competition, and the prolific group Birdsong at Morning, who just released a four-disc set of their meldings of classical and Appalachian folk music. Sept. 8, 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $10. Arts at the Armory. 617-718-2191, www.artsatthearmory.org
FIRST PLACE "AMERICAN SONGWRITER" LYRIC CONTEST WINNER MAY/JUNE 2012
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1st Place “Chickasaw” Written by Thea Hopkins What inspired you to write “Chickasaw?” Well, ...1st Place
Written by Thea Hopkins
What inspired you to write “Chickasaw?”
Well, I had gone to an Artie Traum workshop at a music store called The Guitar Emporium, in Lexington, Massachusetts. It’s written in DADGAD tuning and I had never used that one before. I went there and I was really inspired by the tunings – I started fooling around with it and I loved what I came up with. Then I saw the word “Chickasaw,” actually, and I just started to create a story in my mind. That’s the way it developed, and it turned into kind of a love story gone very wrong.
Can you expand on the meaning of the story?
It’s a story about a woman who falls passionately in love with someone, and it doesn’t quite go the way she wanted it to. She finds out he had been involved with somebody else, so she basically loses her mind and kills him. That’s what it’s about. It’s a song about the crime of passion, essentially.
What made you use Chickasaw as the location?
It was really just a name that struck me. After the fact, I looked up that there was a Chickasaw, Georgia, and a Chickasaw, Oklahoma. Also, I’m part Indian, and there’s a Chickasaw Indian tribe, too. I’m not Chickasaw Indian, but it was kind of tied in with that too.
When did you write it?
It came out on my last album, which came out in late 2007. It’s the title track.
How long did it take you to write “Chickasaw?”
Well, it didn’t take that long to write, but I’m very finicky about writing lyrics. What I’ll do is I’ll write, then I’ll rewrite, and then I rewrite, and then I rewrite after that. I just get very obsessive about making sure everything is exactly where I want it to be.
Is that your typical songwriting process – do you usually write the lyrics first?
It is. I’m very particular about where words are going to fall. So I keep writing and writing and rewriting something until it’s exactly where I want it to be. Sometimes, you’ll like something you write the first time around and that’s great. But that doesn’t tend to be my process. My process is to get an idea and then just keep at it until I like everything where it is – where it fits perfectly.
How long have you been writing songs?
About ten years. I’ve been working as a full-time musician for ten years now and writing songs seriously for ten years. It has been basically since 2000 or 2001.
One of your songs was cut by Peter, Paul and Mary. Can you tell us a little about how that happened?
Before my first album came out, I sent this song “Jesus Is On The Wire” to a song contest through Noel Paul Stookey’s [of Peter, Paul and Mary] public domain foundation. It didn’t win anything. But a few months after the contest ended, he contacted me. It was this e-mail out of the blue. He said, “Hi, we love your song. Can we perform it?” I couldn’t believe it, but that’s the way it happened.
Where can people go to hear your music?
LEAD REVIEW Of MAY 3, 2012 SHOW OPENING FOR RAMBLIN' JACK ELLIOTT!
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THEA HOPKINS Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA 5/3/12 A fine gig tonight at a great packed... THEA HOPKINS
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA 5/3/12
A fine gig tonight at a great packed venue for long-time folk talent Thea Hopkins. She’s opening for the legendary Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, he of the more talk/less music mentality (that’s what octogenarians are apt to do—whoa!). Immediately Thea and her tremendous sidekick, Andy Hollinger (guitar/ mandolin), set the audience upright with a short collection of great folk-rockin’ material. Her voice is crisp and clear with gorgeous sustained tones vested with both blues and country inflections. She graces us with an uptempo version of Linda and Teddy Thompson’s tune, “Do Your Best for Rock ’n’ Roll,” that gets the crowd boppin’, but it’s her original material that is the focal point. “Down By the Water,” “Hold On,” “Rows and Rows of Stars,” and “Lilac Sky,” the title tune from her upcoming new album, are standouts. Thea also proudly tells us that she has just won an American Songwriter contest and will be receiving a new Gibson guitar. Bravo and fait accompli. (Harry C. Tuniese)
"Chickasaw" Review - 4 STARS!
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Thea Hopkins Chickasaw **** Brave songwriting by a woman who knows the importance and power...Thea Hopkins
Brave songwriting by a woman who knows the importance and power of words.
Thea Hopkins isn’t afraid to tackle a sensitive subject. Take Jesus Is On The Wire for instance; it tells the true story of Matthew Shepherd, a young man who was taken out to the country, tied to a fence and then beaten to death by two men because he had the audacity to be gay. A church minister actually turned up at his funeral as he was being lowered into the ground and shouted, ‘God hates faggots!’ Strange that, I always thought God loved everybody. For this one song alone, Thea Hopkins is to be applauded, because it takes guts to stand up to the hypocrites and religious bigots. ‘They said he slept with guys, they said that he was gonna die.’ Those lyrics would still resonate if the song was fiction, but because they are penned in truth they send a shiver down the spine.
Hopkins is no one trick pony though; there are other songs here that are just as potent. She gets the war mongers in her sights on River Of Fire and scores a direct hit on the Bush administration: ‘the king sends his riders out just before the dawn, to the four corners of the earth he’s set his eye upon.’ Pretty powerful stuff delivered in a high lonesome voice slightly reminiscent of Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell—two women who know a little bit about protest songs themselves. Like any good storyteller, Hopkins has the lyrical talent to create startling images in the mind, and she reminds us of what it is to be human. She evokes charming memories of childhood with The Edge Of Geary, whilst Once There Was A Lover, a song about choosing the wrong partner, is sure to strike a chord in anyone who’s ever walked this world hand in hand with a mistake. I would have liked to hear a little more variation in the pacing of the songs, but that really is splitting hairs. After all, mother earth needs all the courage she can get at the moment, and Thea Hopkins is one brave girl indeed. I salute her. DH
Thea Hopkins Crafts Haunting Tales Of Imagery
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On the album art for 2007’s ``Chickasaw,'' Thea Hopkins’ second full-length release, you have the fo...On the album art for 2007’s ``Chickasaw,'' Thea Hopkins’ second full-length release, you have the four-words that define her work: ``American Short Story Folk.'' That is what you hear: 12 tracks of meticulously conceived, hauntingly realized and beautifully-sung narratives that are heavy on the heart for their sense of tragedy but so poignant and memorable all the same.
Somerville-based Hopkins loves her imagery and is a gifted linguist – she suggests her work is as much influenced by writers of short stories as it is folk forebears. In song and in discussion, Hopkins has the candor of someone who’s well in touch with her gifts but is always careful not to take them for granted.
``I think with my debut album, I was consumed with it (the songwriting). Now I want to develop and refine it,'' said Hopkins, who performs at Perk’s Coffeehouse in Norwood Thursday evening. ``If you feel directed in a particular way, it becomes an act of will to say ‘I’m not going to do this.’ Sometimes I’ll wake up very early in the morning with a new idea and instead of saying ‘I don’t want to get up and deal with this,’ I’ll just go with it. I think it’s also recognizing that when that happens, it’s a gift to have it. Maybe it’s something that won’t make sense at first but is just some spark trying to get there.''
Hopkins attracted national attention with her debut, 2001’s ``Birds of Mystery,'' and received an even greater professional boost when Peter, Paul & Mary recorded one of her songs, ``Jesus Is On the Wire,'' for their 2004 album ``In These Times.''
Of all Hopkins’ wrenching story-songs, ``Jesus,'' about the hate crime death of University of Wisconsin student Matthew Shepard in 1998, is still the one that cuts the deepest. Hopkins said she’s had versions sent to her from musicians all over the world, and she even re-recorded the tune herself for ``Chickasaw.''
The song is in good company with the other chapters in her storybook, including the romance-minded ``Rows and Rows of Stars,'' the pensive meditation on childhood memories ``The Edge of Geary,'' and the deep melancholy of ``The Weather Turns,'' which features cellist Natalie Haas.
Haas is among several all-star contributors to appear on ``Chickasaw,'' including guitarist David Goodrich (Chris Smither), pianist Tim Ray (Lyle Lovett), guitarist Steve Sadler (Swinging Steaks), bassist Richard Gates (Suzanne Vega), and violinist Ian Kennedy, who also mastered the album. But the instrumentation feels like scenery next to Hopkins’ own voice – that sensual, late-night, ancient-sounding timbre.
``It’s a conscious thing. I love words, and I’m always trying to develop that,'' Hopkins said. ``I’m a solitary artist, though. I love to perform but I need a sense of solitude to let things ferment for a while. I read an interview with Leonard Cohen where he said he would rewrite, and rewrite and rewrite – that’s the kind of thing that inspires me to refine things. That’s what gets you to your aha! moment.''
Hopkins will be at BK’s Lounge in Revere on May 15 and Bridgewater’s July 4 celebration at the Quad at Bridgewater State College.
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Thea Hopkins possesses a voice and style that are so unique and brilliant that you wonder why the re...Thea Hopkins possesses a voice and style that are so unique and brilliant that you wonder why the rest of the world has not yet caught on. She is sultry and sensuous, serious and playful, mysterious and fascinating all at once. She is reminiscent of the great torch singers, but also has a modern and contemporary sound which she shares with the likes of Sarah McLaughlin and Natalie Merchant. The bottom line is that she knows how to take an audience on a ride that touches the full range of human emotions.
Chickasaw is her sophomore release—a worthy follow-up to the classic songs of her 2001 debut, Birds of Mystery. Chickasaw is subtitled "American short story folk," and indeed, the many wonderful songs here truly do tell a story about people living on the edge of love, of luck, and of life.
An air of romance, of earth-shattering love and lust, permeates the richly sensual Rows and Rows of Stars. David Goodrich colors Thea's gorgeous vocals with his superb work on guitar and piano. This is a song you can just drift away on—you don't want it to end.
The Edge of Geary brings back images of a small-town childhood as it appears in memory. Thea's soft, sultry alto rises to meet Chris Thompson's harmony vocals. Ian Kennedy shines on violin.
Every one of us has a story about choosing the wrong lover—the one who is too good to be true. Once There Was a Lover describes just this kind of false suitor. It is one of the recording's best cuts:
Once there was a lover who found
Shelter in Jesus and all he adored
Thorns and desire, roses and fire
Was all his heart had room for.
The Weather Turns is so hauntingly beautiful a song that its melody and lyrics stay with you long after you have listened to it. Natalie Haas on cello helps to create an air of melancholy and mystery. Thea's voice caresses the lyrics with her special magic.
Dave Goodrich, on resonator guitar, opens the title track, Chickasaw" This is a classic song of love gone badly and irrevocably wrong.
There are so many great songs here, I could address each and every one of them. But none is as moving as the revised version of Thea's riveting Jesus is on the Wire, which has been covered by Peter, Paul and Mary. Here she paints a picture of an unforgettable landscape, and a day that will go down in our collective memory. This song is a modern classic.
The beauty of Thea's voice is matched by the brilliance of her lyrics. Some singers know how to sing and others know how to write. Thea Hopkins draws you in with her sensual, sultry voice, but keeps your attention by wrapping that voice around beautiful melodies and wonderful stories. She's a marvelous talent. Get lost in her mystery. You may never want to be found. -- Roberta B. Schwartz
A literate voice
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November 27, 2007 We don't usually associate the words "country music" with "literature," but al...November 27, 2007
We don't usually associate the words "country music" with "literature," but all of the praise for Somerville country folk artist Thea Hopkins does just that. We're going to have to rethink our prejudices here. Hopkins, whose engaging voice and lyrics can be heard on her latest record, "Chickasaw," has been compared to everyone from Nick Drake to Sarah McLachlan. She performs tonight at Johnny D‘s. 21+ 8:30 p.m. $8. 17 Holland St., Somerville. 617-776-2004. johnnyds.com￼
© Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company
Hopkins has ‘Jesus’ to thank for her story-song talent
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Writing a song and writing a short story are two completely different beasts, right? Thea Hopkins...Writing a song and writing a short story are two completely different beasts, right?
Thea Hopkins begs to differ. What she calls her “American short story folk” brings the two disparate styles together on her new CD, “Chickasaw.”
The Somerville songwriter’s literary take on the troubadour tradition was not calculated.
“It’s something that just kind of came naturally to me,” said Hopkins in a conversation at Johnny D’s, where she’ll perform tomorrow. “I like the idea of using metaphor and imagery to tell a story.”
While most modern-day folkies sing first-person narratives, Hopkins has taken an alternate route: connecting with listeners through a storytelling tradition that’s more influenced by Annie Proulx and Truman Capote than Joni Mitchell.
But just because Hopkins (who is married to Herald music writer Daniel Gewertz) refrains from the confessional singer-songwriter approach, don’t think her songs lack emotional punch.
“There are just certain things I want to express in story form, like ‘Jesus is on the Wire’,” said Hopkins of her song about the hate-crime slaying of Matthew Shepard. “I wanted to write in a way that felt personal enough. Especially for such a charged topic, I wanted it to feel as personal as a confessional, so that it will affect people in that way.”
Most songwriters can only dream of their song getting the kind of reaction Hopkins has gotten from “Jesus is on the Wire.” Performers from around the world have asked Hopkins for permission to cover it, including folk legends Peter, Paul & Mary, who included it on their 2004 album “In These Times.”
Reaction to the imagery of “Jesus is on the Wire, if not it’s message of tolerance, has been mixed.
“Several churches have contacted me wanting to perform it,” Hopkins said, “but I’ve also gotten many responses from the Christian right saying, ‘How dare you say that. It’s blasphemy!’ They told me I was going to hell, damnation, all that.”
While Hopkins admits to harboring some anxiety about alienating fans with her take on certain controversial topics, it hasn’t affected her approach to songwriting.
“I do feel that if you have a perspective on these issues,” she said, “that you have a responsibility not only as an artist, but as an individual, to say what you think.”
Writing about people outside of the societal norm comes naturally to Hopkins, whose heritage is American Indian - her uncle was the chief of Martha’s Vineyard’s Wampanoag Indian tribe -African-American, Irish, French and Portuguese. Her mixed race background makes her stand out among the Boston folk pack.
“There aren’t a lot of people with ethnic backgrounds in the folk scene here,” she said, “but I don’t think people should have to deny part of their heritage to make other people comfortable.” -- Christopher Blagg
Praise For "Chickasaw"
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“Thea Hopkins’ new recording, "Chickasaw," puts her haunting voice front and center, and especially ...“Thea Hopkins’ new recording, "Chickasaw," puts her haunting voice front and center, and especially on her lovely self-written ballads, it's a voice with the mystery and power of the late, great Nick Drake.” -- Susan Werner
“This is what making good music is all about! I especially liked ‘Jenny Danced.’”
-- Tom Rush
“Thea Hopkins is one of the most literate, poetic and emotionally moving of the new singer-songwriters to arrive on the scene in the last few years. Her song, 'Jesus Is On the Wire,' is a compelling composition with a riveting story-telling style. This is one of the most important songs we have sung in recent years." – Peter, Paul & Mary
“Thea Hopkins possesses a voice and style that are so unique and brilliant that you wonder why the rest of the world has not yet caught on. She is sultry and sensuous, serious and playful, mysterious and fascinating all at once. She is reminiscent of the great torch singers, but also has a modern and contemporary sound which she shares with the likes of Sarah McLaughlin and Natalie Merchant. The bottom line is that she knows how to take an audience on a ride that touches the full range of human emotions. The beauty of Thea's voice is matched by the brilliance of her lyrics.” -– Roberta B. Schwartz, The Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
“Immaculately played and produced, with narratives that drip with metaphor and imagery… Thea Hopkins possesses a voice that stands up to her material… The title track showcases the style perfectly, evocative and with a hint of menace. This is folk as it should be: dark tales, poetry and protest.”— Americana-UK.com
“Thea Hopkins is one of Boston's treasures. Her brand new CD "Chickasaw" is pure delight from beginning to end.”— Kathy Sands Boehmer, me & thee coffeehouse
“The songs on Thea Hopkins’ second CD “Chickasaw”, bear witness to many different aspects of human nature… Hopkins’ velvety voice and perfect phrasing provide a riveting contrast to the seriousness of her subject matter; her voice soothes while her lyrics electrify you.” – Judy Robinson, Madison Folk Newsletter
Chosen as the Festival Network Online’s Musician of the Month, for Jan. 2008. “Thea Hopkins possesses a voice like fine cognac and a warm wood fire. “
– David Earl Tomlinson, FNO
Thea Hopkins - 'Lilac Sky' - review (8/10) March 2013
"Rich, sultry, emotional, expressive..."
1- 3 sets, 45 minutes each.
Originals & covers.