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Jesca Hoop: Order of Romance
(Independent release, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 10/5/2022)
I have often commented on the musical diversity of the singer-songwriter genre, which has become quite eclectic after its folk-music origins. Almost any contemporary genre or sub-genre has been adopted by a singer-songwriter somewhere. This week, we have another quite interesting and creative direction taken by a composer-vocalist. I guess one could call it art-folk or chamber pop. It’s the sixth album by Jesca Hoop, called Order of Romance, and it features a distinctive acoustic sound with a vaguely classically influenced ensemble with woodwinds, brass and some strings, with somewhat unconventional vocal arrangements.
Jesca Hoop, who shortened her name from Jessica, is a Northern California native, who grew up in a devout household where her family sang hymns in four-part harmony. In her teen years, after her parents separated, she decided to move “off the grid” living in a yurt in the wilderness for a while. By age 20, she got a job as a wilderness survival guide in a program for wayward teens. But she kept up her music, eventually moving to Los Angeles to be close to the business. She landed a job as a nanny for Tom Waits and his wife Kathleen Kennedy, who encouraged her had helped her to make connections, which resulted in a record deal with a Columbia Records subsidiary, which released her debut album called Kismet in 2007. But the record deal did not last long, and she moved between labels, all the while making contact with numerous performers, including touring with Peter Gabriel as a backing vocalist, and opening for acts as diverse as Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler, Iron and Wine and bluesman Shuggie Otis. She moved to Manchester, England in 2008 and has been based there since.
All the while, she has been releasing a series of eclectic albums marked by her distinctive vocals, often layered by overdubbing. The new album features the aforementioned acoustic ensemble. The main instrument sounds like a pizzicato viola or cello, or a muted guitar, with some brass and woodwind players added. It recalls the sound of others who have taken that sort of chamber ensemble approach like My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden, and the 2021 album we reviewed by Emily Brown.
Ms. Hoop creates some musically complex compositions with tricky rhythms and unexpected harmonic shifts, with lyrics that range from the personal to a consideration of the wildfires in California, and the destruction of ecosystems and extinctions. The album was produced by John Parish, and collaborators include bassist John Thorne, percussionist Sue Rochford, and backing vocalists Chloe Foy and Rachel Rimmer. The arrangements are creative which enhance Ms. Hoop’s sometimes quirky songs.
Opening is a piece that sums up the eclectic mix on the album, Sudden Light which highlights the wind instruments in the ensemble and the distinctive backing vocals. <<>>
Ms. Hoop’s biography says that as a teen she broke away from her parents’ Mormon religion. That may have been the inspiration for the song I Was Just 14 the story of adolescent discoveries. <<>>
Ms. Hoop says she was influenced by Ani DiFranco and her song Revolutionary Love. Hoop borrows the phrase for her composition Hatred Has a Mother, a commentary on the state of the world, with an almost child-like musical setting. <<>>
Silent Extinction is story of a separation which involved a child. Again, the musical arrangement is fascinating. <<>>
Another song inspired by the state of the world is Seven Pounds of Pressure which evokes images of school shootings. <<>>
Sioux Falls takes up the subject of paranoia, in another highly distinctive arrangement. <<>>
The specter of the fires that have ravaged her native state is taken up in the song Firestorm. Again, the result is quite striking. <<>>
The album ends with Lyre Bird with one of the most intimate sounding arrangements, whose lyrics take up environmental threats and disasters. <<>>
Jesca Hoop’s new album Order of Romance is, I think, a really fascinating and quite appealing recording, with highly distinctive musical arrangements, and vocals that can at times seem whimsical, but with lyrics that often say profound things in a poetic, sometimes roundabout way. The chamber folk-pop sound is something that some others have done, but Ms. Hoop has really created something special on her new album.
Our grade for sound quality is a “B.” Most of it is well recorded, providing a nice intimate sound, but there are a couple of instances of Ms. Hoop’s lead vocal sounding distorted presumably from being overdriven. So we’ll deduct points for that.
Singer-songwriters come in many musical flavors, and Jesca Hoop has demonstrated her creative eclecticism and charm in this album that sounds like few others.
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