Sara Thomsen saves us all
I own this album. I don’t just mean I own a copy, I own the music. It’s not my creation and I don’t have legal rights to it, of course. But I’ve adopted it. It’s mine.
I got my reasons. I went through a terrible January. My finances crashed before Christmas. To pay the bills I took on a third job which involves a lot of driving, which I hate, and I crashed my car. (No one hurt, but still.) I was always exhausted. January is the dead of winter and the weather was almost constantly gray. There was a bunch of other stuff I don’t care to talk about. But on top of it all, my mother wasn’t doing well health-wise, and she eventually passed on.
I had to continue the driving job, so I borrowed a friend’s car. I had this album on continual replay while driving. Not only is it soothing, often it’s so beautiful it made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Just as often it pulled the heartstrings. The only time I didn’t listen to it was when it was so overwhelming emotionally that it interfered with my driving and I had to switch to top 40 radio just to stay on keel. The album was released in late December, so for me it appeared just in time.
“This is a one-act play, what’s your part?” Thomsen sings in the title cut, the second track. “In every ending, there’s some new start / What is your story now, where is your heart?” These lines are carried by swelling music, a wave of empathy and wisdom.
These songs can be interpreted in the most personal way. In “Shining Star” she sings, “Gentle soul, you are so powerful, do you know we love you so?” In the minor key “Rhapsody of Rest,” she reminds us that life is a gift even in times of sadness: “In the morning, thank you, thank you … In the deep dark night, thank you, thank you.”
In “108” she sings, “I don’t know what to say to give you thanks in some small way, but you have always known the meaning of a song.” It’s about Thomsen’s childhood home (108 is the address) but it seems eerily appropriate to my mom. As did Thomsen’s version of Maggie Wheeler’s “Let Me Sing For You.” And then there’s “Root of the Root,” in which she sings,”Come home, come home, home of your home, shining light, guide me.” Is it intended to be about dying? It’s a comforting way of looking at it.
Much of Thomsen’s work is political and politically correct, and yet it’s much more. Track 1, “Water is Life,” gets its title from the current slogan of oil pipeline protesters. “Where Did Jesus Go?” is about the gap between Christianity and Christ. (“I can’t find him in the church, he walked right out the door.”) “Magenta and Grey” is a lesbian love song (written as a wedding gift for an actual couple), but it’s hard to imagine Beavis and Butthead sniggering about the poetic lyrics. Being as it’s about a relationship that lasts into old age, I couldn’t help but think of my parents, who were married more than 60 years.
There’s a lot to be said about the production. It was recorded at Sacred Heart and the church acoustics provide a hymnal feel. The harmonizing by Paula Pederson and others iis chill-inducing. Erin Aldridge’s violin and Ryan Frane’s piano are hard to describe in a word, but I’d vote for “transcendent.” The cd also includes a booklet with beautiful rustic artwork by Sandy Spieler.
If there’s a weak spot I’d say it’s “Too Many Roosters,” a political anthem that could be about Trump, though it can also be read as about big money or male domination in government. It’s nice to find some humor and blues amid the folk serenity that is the rest of the album, but the chicken puns are, dare I say it, overcooked. (“What the cluck cluck we gonna do? Organize a chicken coup.”) It’s also amusing that read in the booklet that the chickens clucking in the background are Thomsen’s flock of Icelandic Heritage Hens, but I found them distracting from the a capella vocals. For that matter Thomsen’s voice, though lovely and resonant, is too soft for this type of material. It might work better belted out by a raunchy Janis Joplin-type singer along the lines of “Mercedes Benz.”
Maybe this one didn’t cluck, er, click with me as much because it’s a women-empowerment song, but that’s okay, not every song has to be about me. Music is great if it speaks to you personally and, at the same time, speaks to everyone. These songs are universal, applicable to anyone’s life. I like to think I’ve adopted “Song Like a Seed,” but so can you.
The album is available at sarathomsen.com.