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Abigail Hopkins: The Memoirs of an Outlaw

Reviewed By: Malcolm Carter
Label: Basilica Music
Format: CD

There are so many female singer / songwriters battling for our attention now. I love this genre but can remember a time when there were so few that is was easy to check out the music almost every female singer / songwriter who didn’t fit into the mainstream was making.

This is the third album by Hopkins. Her debut, ‘Smile Road’, was released in 2003 and she followed that up two years later with ‘Blue Satin Alley’ and I have to confess that I haven’t heard either of them. I have heard them being described as ‘alternative jazz’ and that her music crossed-over into numerous genres taking in folk, jazz and trip hop. On this showing I can only suggest that someone comes up with a completely new genre to describe the music Hopkins makes as, although there are certainly jazz touches to these songs, they are laced with blues, weird-folk and more than a touch of that New Orleans swamp sound that Hopkins really is making original music here. How often can you say that these days?

The twelve songs are all originals, and Hopkins, apart from taking all the lead vocals also adds acoustic and electric guitars; almost all of the other sounds are made by John Winfield who co-produced the album and co-wrote the music with Hopkins. It would seem we have two major musical talents here producing some of the most unsettling but fascinating music we are likely to hear all year.

Maybe it’s Hopkins background as a theatre director and actor that gives her the ability to write not just songs but short stories, many of these songs concern the lives of people who live on the edge. The opening song, ‘Used Car Salesman’, is a good place to start, “It’d been a long time since he’d looked up at the stars or felt the soft breeze on his face or the cushiony clutch of his wife’s embrace” is a fine example of Hopkins ability to draw the listener into the world of her characters.

But it’s not just her lyrics that set Hopkins apart, just now I’m listening to ‘Miriam The Medium’ and her vocals on the chorus are quite frankly not only the most disturbing sound I’ve heard all year but also one of the most beautiful. Again one can only assume that Hopkins other life as an actress gives her the ability to inject life and texture into her vocals that no other singer is capable of. While the instrumentation throughout this album is exceptional and also in a field of its own it really is Hopkins’ vocals which steal the show here.

Trying to compare the sounds that Hopkins makes with any other artist is fruitless, she really is unique vocally. It’s so refreshing to hear an artist who is just taking her own path and making the music she obviously wants to make and one gets the feeling that Hopkins has made no compromises. The sounds she and Winfield wanted to unleash on the record buying public are those heard here, I’d be very surprised if any outside suggestions were taken on board, or even if anyone had the courage to actually offer any advice.

It has to be said that Hopkins had the kind of vocals you are going to love or loathe. She doesn’t make it an easy ride, for every person I have played this to who has loved the sound there has been one who didn’t understand the twisted beauty Hopkins brings to the table with these 12 songs. I just find her vocals breathtaking. Listen to the way a multi-tracked Hopkins sings “ For what are we but blood and bones anyway” on the song, ‘Blood And Bones’ and fail to be moved by those sounds coming from her mouth. It really is extraordinary.

If you are looking for music that takes it to the edge, lyrics that you are not going to hear on mainstream radio and vocals that will leave you on the edge of your seat for all the right reasons then make ‘The Memoirs Of An Outlaw’ the next CD you buy. It’s scary, it’s beautiful…it’s real. Start with the closing song, ‘No Turning Back’ which is six minutes plus of the more melodic side of Hopkins and then work through the album. It’s a journey that you will find more rewarding each time you take it.

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