...There’s more to Thomas than clever harmonies and cosy vocals.
Serena Kutchinsky 2007-05-22
Folk music may be back on the radar in a major way but nestling just underneath it is one of the scene’s hidden treasures: songstress Rosie Thomas. This whimsical, stripped down album is set to drag the reluctant songstress into the musical spotlight on the basis of its evocative ballads, devastatingly pretty melodies and impressive covers. But there’s more to Thomas than clever harmonies and cosy vocals.
A native of windswept Seattle, she had dabbled in theatre, recorded three albums and reached an artistic crossroads. Frustrated by her own creative limitations, she reached out to her friends who just happened to include celebrated folkster, Sufjan Stevens – a multi-instrumentalist whose minimal tendencies have drawn comparisons with the likes of Steve Reich.
Under his guidance, Thomas decamped to New York, or more accurately Brooklyn. The aim was to record an album without the pressure of deadlines and pressurised recording schedules. These Friends Of Mine was written and recorded in the modest apartment she shared with Stevens and long-term collaborator Denison Witmer.
The result is an album that brims with introspective beauty and exposes Thomas’ song writing ability. Her voice is sweet, clear and perfectly offset by the playful contributions of Witmer and Stevens. ''Say Hello'' is a brief but effective duet that illustrates the bonds of friendship through call and response patterns. Other highlights include ''Paper Doll'', a track penned originally by Witmer and possessed completely by Thomas’s fragile falsetto. Tracks like the piano-based ''Kite Song'' may sound all 'get away from it all on the end of a kite' – but are rescued by their supernatural simplicity.
Covers-wise they just about pull off a folked-up version of REM’s classic ‘'The One I Love'’ – paying little homage to Michael Stipe’s gravely original and weaving it successfully into the framework of the album. Less memorable is Fleetwood Mac’s ‘'Songbird'’ – which is artificially sweetened to the point of nausea.
That one false moment aside, this is an engaging effort which gives us a timely reminder of the creative potency of the concept album in the era of free downloads and single track success. In true sixties style, Thomas’ achievements owe a lot to the help of her friends.