Jesca Hoop’s biography seems too unreal to be true. A Northern California Mormon who traveled around the Great Wide West after her parent’s divorce before settling down as Tom Waits’ nanny. On my father’s grave, this is all completely true. Since he knows talent when he sees it, Waits connected Hoop with industry types which resulted, in a roundabout way, in her 2008 EP Kismet Acoustic.
I fell in love with Hoop’s music after hearing her sophomore album, Undress. Her voice is strong but vulnerable, her lyrics erudite yet populist–approachable to the everyman listener. But this is not your mother’s acoustic folk album: each song on the album has a distinct identity, and all of them are rhythmically complex. And while she has yet to reach a large commercial audience, her talent is well recognized by fellow musicians with Waits heading an impressive line of professional supporters. On Undress alone features Guy Garvey, Willy Mason, Erika Wennerstrom, and, last but not least, Sam Beam of Iron & Wine fame.
Two years after moonlighting on Undress, Beam came back for more and the duo recorded Love Letter For Fire–a duets album released earlier this year. And oh what a beautiful album it is. Hoop adds cinematic depth to Beam’s southern softness, and the music they make together feels honest and earthly. Love songs often feel forced, like musicians try to make real life lighter or heavier depending on what they try to elicit from us, the listeners. Not Love Letter For Fire. Songs like “Know the Wild that Wants You” acknowledges the struggle of finding yourself even as you build a home with another, while “Bright Lights and Goodbyes” captures the heartbreaking optimism of farewells. Love, after all, is utterly ruthless.
Call it indie folk, call it Americana, call it whatever you want: I classify Hoop’s music as human. Human in its honey-hummed vocals, lyrical openness, and simple intelligence–beautiful and useful like Quaker furniture.