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.
For those of you who don’t know, I’ve worked as an archivist and museum technician with the National Park Service (NPS) under various titles over the last ten years. This year marks the centennial of the NPS as well as my decade of service, and a fancy-schmancy marketing agency was hired ages ago to brand this milestone with the theme of “Find Your Park,” encouraging people to go forth and find a place that appeals to them–a historic presidential home, like Teddy Roosevelt’s Sagamore Hill; an urban park, like the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (plug!); or a monumental nature preserve, like Yosemite. I’m very proud to work for a federal agency with great approval ratings, and I show my support by adding #findyourpark (or #fyp) to all social media content I upload from work. Because, you know, love isn’t real until you put it on the internet.
And people love national parks–including The Tree Ring mastermind Joel P. West. A few years ago, I waxed poetic about The Whitmanic Joel P. West, and, fast-forward three years later, he is still one of my very-favorite artists to watch due to his diverse yet consistent production. The man has dropped an additional The Tree Ring album since that post went live, but he’s also scored a handful of films–four in 2015 alone. I called West “Whitmanic” in 2013 because he seemed equally as inspired by nature’s reverential beauty as the poet Walt Whitman, and now he has proven me right by revealing himself to be an active Finder-Your-Parker.
“Tunnel View” is from The Tree Ring’s 2014 album Ten Rivers, and its video (featured below) was created to commemorate the NPS centennial. Accompanying this video on the band’s website is text as follows: “The parks belong to all of us and the landscapes treat everyone the same. We can all have our own experiences and memories in the parks, and they are preserved so that we can revisit and share them. You can’t buy a sunny day or a wildlife sighting, and commercial ventures are kept outside of the gates. Yosemite Valley is a place of wonder, calm, and clarity, and we’re so thankful for the people who have fought to ensure that everyone can enjoy it.”
As a public servant donning the NPS hat daily, I couldn’t have said it better. So, without further ado, may I present the inaugural 2016 Nostos Algos post: one that combines my passion and my profession; enjoy.