Sara Thomsen
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Sara Thomsen

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"Powerful collection from a grounded talent"

Listeners to Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now may often hear, “Is It For Freedom?” (“…prove to me America that you care…,” which will also be familiar to longtime readers of these pages). That’s Sara Thomsen. Dabbling in politics, love and nature, Sara’s fourth release, Everything Changes, has 15 new cuts with minimal production and a variety of styles.

She begins with the very short a capella “Metamorphosis,” setting the scene for change, growth and evolution on many levels. Songs involve the change the moment after your heart is broken, the change when forbidden love blossoms, and the change when a grandmother dies before you have a chance to write the book you planned together.
Thomsen has warm, alto vocals She feels her singing. Her writing conveys her passions for justice, humanity and sustainability through change. She admits to influences of Molly Ivins, Mercedes Sosa and Arundhati Roy.

Inspired by a quote by Roy, Thomsen uses the idea of a sleeping giant awakening to political change in “All Across the Land.” She begins solo, and the sound grows in texture and accompaniment with the gradual addition of cello, violin, hand drums and finally The Echoes of Peace Choir, a non-audition community choir Sara directs in Duluth, Minnesota (an insight into her character and values). For over a minute they are haunting in their mesmerizing looping of the words “we are rising up,” as if representing the rising masses.

In “A Woman’s Place” (which Sing Out! shared last issue), Sara, backed by drums, piano and a Latin flavor, sings that home is the whole wide world. Potters, dreamers, rabbis, singers, teachers, mothers, scientists, dancers, journalists, politicians, volunteers, refugees and engineers are just some examples of the women who are healers of the earth and change makers.

Her own earthy photographs in the accompanying booklet also reflect change: flowers poking through the ground and stone stairs overgrown with green.

“Todo Cambia” is the only cover. Its lyrics establish change as the nature of all things. The song is entirely sung in Spanish. This is a powerful collection from a grounded talent.
- Sing Out! Magazine


"Superior Sounds"

Already a well-known tunesmith around Duluth and at the Minnesota Folk Festival, where she won the New Folk songwriting contest in 2002, Sara Thomsen is probably just one strong album away from making a broader impact in the Twin Cities scene. That album should be "Everything Changes," which she's promoting with a Mother's Day gig Sunday at the Cedar Cultural Center...

Recorded at Sacred Heart Studio (an old church in Duluth), it features a patch-quilt of musical styles stitched together by Thomsen's lonely alto voice and evocative writing style. Highlights include a jazzy tribute to her late grandma, "I Remember These," the hallowed ballad "The Morning After Your Heart Breaks" and "Todo Cambia," a Latin folk gem she picked up during travels in South America.

CHRIS RIEMENSCHNEIDER - Minneapolis Star Tribune


"On The Record"

Folk music can be too earnest for its own good as it devolves into shrill lectures; or, it can be so easygoing as to disappear. Sara Thomsen, an out artist from the Twin Ports, works in the delicate middle ground between the two, crafting music that is at turns angry, defiant, warm, and loving. Pulling together songs she has written over the past decade, Everything Changes is held together by her smooth voice and elegant delivery, along with the efforts of a talented team of musicians providing a warm aural backdrop. Thomsen tackles difficult political subjects—check out “A Woman’s Place” or the sprawling “All Across the Land” for examples. But I found myself drawn to the tales of everyday life like “I Remember These.”

ED HUYCK
- Lavender Magazine


"Thomsen’s warmth, soul beckon in ‘Everything Changes’"

Sara Thomsen has created a recording that is subtly captivating and seductive in its fragility. “Everything Changes” is a personal record that magnetically pulls you in.

Some artists write big, bold anthems that can overwhelm a listener. This record quietly beckons.

Enter this world to find a woman daring to go into those vulnerable, dark places that we all like to keep hidden. Thomsen does it with courage, eloquence and dignity, while translating the contents of her soul into musical form. She infuses these songs with the same unostentatious love and warmth that she generates in live performances. Then she augments the music with the help of friends old and new.

An array of the Northland’s finest musicians add their fingerprints to these songs. Camaradas from The Three Altos — Paula Pederson and Amy Bernstein — highlight several tracks in spine-tingling, almost familial vocal harmonies with Thomsen.

A rhythm section (a first for Thomsen) features pianist Ryan Frane, bassist John Thorene and drummer Dan Westerlund. They add some density to select tunes and give the overall disc a much fuller soundscape. Dobro and banjo picker Lance Rhicard, cellist Kathy McTavish and fiddler Rachael Kilgour are stellar with judicious note choices and uplifting accompaniment.

Thomsen learned the title song, “Todo Cambia” (“everything changes” in Spanish and sung in the language), during travels through Latin America. Composed by Chilean Julio Numhauser, the template for this track is the version sung by Argentinean activist Mercedes Sosa. “Hope distilled” is how Thomsen describes what this song has meant to her during difficult personal times and how it has encouraged her to not back away from bigger social issues. That hopefulness comes through in her performance of the title track.

Sometimes, something intimate in its origin needs support to reach its full potential. In just this way, Thomsen called on other musicians to help pull more out of her vocally on “A Woman’s Place.” The song succeeds marvelously as the rhythm section, additional voices and the sound of a trumpet add color and push Thomsen to reach beyond her comfort zone. For a commission from the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, Minn., Thomsen’s fun but daunting challenge was to compose a piece for a program called “A Woman’s Place In the World.” Her song weaves together rabbis, teachers, potters, politicians and engineers to say that a woman’s place is wherever she wants to be.

Some material on “Everything Changes” was begun many years ago and tucked away into drawers and file folders. “I Remember These” is a loving tribute to a nurturing grandmother who encouraged a young Sara to pursue her creative impulses. They agreed to collaborate on a book in which grandma would write the chapters and granddaughter would draw the illustrations. The book wasn’t to be, but this tender look back intertwines love and sweet memories of someone gone but not forgotten.

The starkness of “The Morning After Your Heart Breaks” is disarmingly beautiful. The completely laid-bare lyrics, the achingly honest vocal reading, the angst of the cello lamenting along with the voice and the frailty of the sparse arrangement paint the picture of someone whose heart has been shattered. Thomsen’s message is that you are not alone.

For her fourth solo release, Thomsen didn’t return to her native Sioux Falls, S.D., to record. Instead she chose Sacred Heart Studio in Duluth, whose regal confines add texture and whose engineer, Eric Swanson (co-producer on this project), added just the right touch by allowing rather than forcing the music to happen. Although the recording process stretched over more than two years, the result never seems disjointed or out of synch.

Thomsen’s heart has weathered upheaval and come out bigger and fuller. In “Everything Changes” she has produced a self-portrait that is radiant with elegance, grace and honesty. It weaves its way into your soul.

JOHN ZIEGLER has worked as program and music director at KUMD-FM for 31 years. He produced seven compilation discs from some of his 3,500 in-studio sessions. He reviews music for the News Tribune. Reach him at jziegler@live.com. - Duluth News Tribune


Discography

Everything Changes (2008)
Three Altos: Camaradas (2005)
By Breath (2003)
Fertile Ground (1999)
Arise (1995)

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Bio

Sara Thomsen is a singer-songwriter with a soulful voice, poetic lyrics, and haunting melodies. Her music comes from the heart, and that's where it takes you. With a voice richer than the best mid-west soil, her songs carry you inward and outward—in, to the particulars of your own life, and out into the shared humanity of us all.

Compared by fans to Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell, important musical influences include these legends as well as troubadours of song Pete Seeger, Bernice Johnson Reagon and Mercedes Sosa. Sara has shared the stage with Dar Williams, Peter Mayer, Carrie Newcomer, Catie Curtis, Claudia Schmidt, and Ferron, artists who have also influenced her music. Her performance style is easygoing and full of humor and depth, capturing the audience’s complete engagement. Sara’s music gently enfolds and unfolds the listener.

Sara Thomsen’s new release, Everything Changes (2008), is an intimate portrayal of the heart breaking open and apart, tumbling through transformation with elegance and grace. The album modulates from joy to despair, crusty to tender with hints of jazz, country, latin groove, celtic and bluegrass peppering an acoustic folk base. Sara's sensuous voice and penetrating lyrics cut through to the heart and soul of human experience, transporting the listener to a place within that says: sit down, listen, relax, laugh, cry, dance and remember.

Accompanying Sara and her guitar are piano, bass, drums, dobro, banjo, lead guitar, trumpet, flute, violin, cello, and vocal harmonies adding flavor and pizzazz to an exquisite musical mix.

Produced by Thomsen and co-produced and engineered by Eric Swanson at Sacred Heart Music Studio in Duluth, Minnesota, Everything Changes is Sara’s fourth solo album. Cuts found on earlier releases have won numerous accolades and songwriting awards. Sara won the Minnesota Folk Festival’s New Folk Songwriting Contest in 2002 for “Irene Marguerite” and “Keepin’ the Peace”, off By Breath (2003). “Is It For Freedom,” off Fertile Ground (1999), won a Top Finalist award in the national Bringing Music To Life Contest (2001), created by Noel Paul Stookey (of Peter, Paul and Mary) to recognize songs of sociopolitical concern. Published in Sing Out! Magazine (Summer '03) and aired frequently on Democracy Now! radio news program, the song’s impact on listeners has expanded Sara’s audience nationally and internationally.

In the tradition of Pete Seeger, Holly Near, and Woody Guthrie, Sara is a weaver of song and community singing. At concerts, conferences, classrooms, workshops, retreats, jails, places of prayer, and lines of protest, to be with Sara is to want to sing. Increasing wonder and awareness, deepening spiritual connection, and widening social engagement through song is at the heart of her work. Sara's ability to get people singing magically transforms gatherings into communities empowered with possibility.

In addition to her solo work, Sara has produced multimedia performances involving dancers, poets, painters, storytellers, puppeteers and other musicians. She is the artistic director of the singing trio Three Altos, comprised of a rabbi (Amy Bernstein), a folksinger (Thomsen) and a professor (Thomsen’s partner, Paula Pedersen). Performing locally to packed audiences two to three times a year, the Three Altos’ answered their audience demand and released their debut CD, Camaradas, in 2005. Sara is also the founder and artistic director of The Echoes of Peace Choir, a non-audition community choir in Duluth, Minnesota, with a repertoire of world music and membership of 75-100 voices.

Sara grew up surrounded by a family and community that loved to sing. From listening to her father sing her lullabies, to singing her first solo in junior high (Billy Joel’s “For The Longest Time”) to writing her first songs and recording Arise! (1995), Sara’s life has been infused with music. She is a staunch supporter of struggles for human dignity and ecological sustainability. Slowing down enough to see and hear the vibrant wonder of the ordinary is her work and play. All this can be felt in her music. Whether it is a song welcoming a newborn, protesting a policy, depicting night falling or describing a loved one, her music is alive and pulsing.