December 20, 2005

Rosie Thomas "If Songs Could Be Held"

When she first appeared a few years ago, Rosie Thomas served as an excellet complement to her labelmate Damien Jurado. Her songs were sweet, sensitive things; delicate as gossamer and as gentle as a cool spring breeze. Though these records placed her squarely within the folk-singer world, Rosie Thomas has apparently decided to expand her horizons beyond those limited parameters. To that end, her third album, If Songs Could Be Held eschews the precious folk stylings of previous records, and is, in its own way, a pop record.

It's clear that Thomas's desire to expand her music in a more pop direction was a wise decision. Instead of being the female Damien Jurado or David Bazan, she's proven that she belongs in the realm once reserved for Lucienda Williams, Natalie Merchant, and Joni Mitchell. Songs like "Guess It May" and "Since You've Been Around" are delicate and pretty like before, but they are deeper, stronger, and much more affecting--thanks, in part, to the more mature arrangements, namely a beautiful string section accompaniment. Pretty doesn't always mean comfortable, as her material is as dark as before--if not darker--especially on "Say What You Want" and the how-could-it-not-be-anything-but "Death Came and Got Me."

The most striking song on the record, though, is "Pretty Dress." It's a mid-tempo piano ballad that's not unlike Tori Amos; it starts off quietly, but it grows and builds up into a large, loud, expansively beautiful conclusion, complete with orchestral backing and downright beautiful singing. Haunting and instantly catchy, it's easily one of the best songs of this year. That it's not on the radio is not her fault; this little number could move a multitude of people to tears--tears of joy, tears of sentiment, tears of appretiation of hearing a song of sheer beauty.

If Songs Could Be Held is a beautiful, mature album, and it's a major step forward for Rosie Thomas. In all honesty, it succeeds because it breaks away from her previous work. It's always a bold gambit to do so, but in Thomas's case, she's succeeded. If Songs Could Be Held will quietly take room in your heart and will build a special place there--if you let it. Let it.

--Joseph Kyle

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