Austin American-Statesman on “Motherlode”

Two dimensions of womanhood from Sara Hickman
New double CD ‘Motherlode’ takes on a complex range of emotional colors
By Brad Buchholz
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Friday, June 30, 2006

After recording and performing music for children the past several years, Austin singer-songwriter Sara Hickman swings back into adult music with "Motherlode" — a self-produced two-CD concept album, a musical rumination on the dark and light dimensions of womanhood. Hickman’s aim, throughout, is reflection. The moods of individual songs spin from sorrowful to spiritual to humorous. But the beauty here is in the whole.

The first "Motherlode" CD is titled "The Mirror of Despair." It is introspective, exploring themes of melancholy and woe — though it’s never as blue as, say, Joni Mitchell. The second disc, "The Thread of Happiness" is overt, expressing hope and joy.

Hickman is so intent in conveying just the right mix of emotional colors that she functions more as a director than a writer on this project. Twelve of the CD’s 20 songs are not her own. Hickman’s fans will celebrate many of these covers as refreshing departures, especially on songs written by men, such her playful take on "Mother’s Little Helper" by the Rolling Stones, a treatment of "Mad World" by Tears for Fears that’s as dark as midnight, and the affirming "Little Bird of Anger" by Bob Ackerman.

Hickman writes two tunes with friend David Batteau that really stand out for their ethereal spirit — the brooding "A Song of You," rich with the paradoxical imagery of presence and absence, appreciation and longing; and "Birdhouse," which suggests a joyful garden party that might be choreographed by the likes of George Harrison, John Muir and Buddha.

Yet in the end, it’s tone and texture, not word, that sticks with you the most on this record. No coincidence that the album is populated by musicians who have jazz backgrounds, whose creative emphasis is on landscape, not sheer speed: Mitch Watkins on guitar, Eddy Hobizal on piano, Steve Zirkel on bass. Backing Hickman’s sweet sound on vocals are guests Kelly Willis, Shawn Colvin, Ruthie Foster and Jimmy LaFave.

Hickman’s strength as a singer and writer, even in themes of darkness, is connected to a kind of delicacy. Her songs rarely cut directly to the emotional vein; they arrive there slowly, almost discretely. So while "Motherlode" is probably the most complex album of Hickman’s career, its beauties are subtle ones. Women will surely recognize a lot of themselves in these songs. Men probably will recognize women they love in some of them — and in some cases, feel that universal connection that defies gender.