If Songs Could Be Held

Rosie Thomas grew up in Detroit the daughter of two musicians, eventually relocating to Seattle to attend a private performing arts conservatory there. She began performing at comedy clubs, even once opening for the late Mitch Hedberg, as well as playing her music. She did a couple of notable duets with underground folksinger Damien Jurado which led to a recording contract of her own with legendary indie label Sub Pop records (for whom she still records).

Interestingly, when Thomas does standup comedy her stage altrer ego is that of an awkward, neck-brace wearing pizza delivery girl who echoes the painful goofiness of adolescence. Her lyrics often embody the same starting point but with radically different means and goals.

In the album's lead-off track "Since You've Been Around," for example, Thomas' lyrics describe a personal confusion that requires external stability. In the elegantly-arranged "Pretty Dress," a schoolgirl is laughed at by cruel classmates while the narrator urges a steadfast belief in a better tomorrow. And in "Guess It May," Thomas wonders whether being ignorant of romance's secrets is a permanent, lifelong condition.

Thomas can be a striking lyricist, keeping her words low-key before swooping in with startling imagery at the right moment, like in "Loose Ends" where she writes of her wounded protagonist: "His words will damp her eyes and heat her veins, and the love she thought she found was just another hand-me-down of dwindled grace."

Her music often features lovely harmonies and alternate folk guitar with piano-based numbers that are ideal settings for her earnest voice, sometimes reminiscent of early Suzanne Vega but with less detatchment and more vulnerable.

Although one of Rosie Thomas' first album credits was singing on a Springsteen tribute album ("Wages of Sin," from Badlands: A Tribute To Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska), she has always recorded only her own material on her albums. Thomas apparently feels enough self-confidence as a songwriter to allow cover songs on If Songs Could Be Held, and she does a terrific job on the classic "Let It Be Me," first recorded by the Everly Brothers. Thomas does the track as a beautiful but low-key duet with an uncredited Ed Harcourt.

The other cover is a bit of an odd choice: "It Don't Matter to the Sun," a 1999 song from the Garth Brooks pop album he released under the name Chris Gaines.

Rosie Thomas is a notable talent who has been undeservedly flying under the radar for too long. Songs may not be physically held, as her title asks—-but this CD truly does merit holding, and listening.

Mike Sauter, WYEP Music Director