Listening with Lee Zimmerman – “Motherlode”
Sara Hickman has amassed an impressive career up to this point, but with Motherlode, she can claim an album that ought to mark here as an artist for the ages. A two-CD set based loosely around the concept for femininity and all the hopes, virtues and anguish that implies, it’s a lovely set of songs that’s at once both bold and introspective. Enlisting an impressive roster of friends and collaborators — Shawn Colvin, Kelly Willis, Ruthie Foster, Adrian Belew, and Jimmy Lafave among them, as well as select covers — Hickman relays the material with sly observations and heartfelt circumstance. Her music recalls some of the great female singers of past decades; echoes of Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, Suzanne Vega, Janis Ian, Sandy Denny and other icons find a presence in these gentle, swaying ballads and quiet confessionals, but it’s Hickman’s own steadfast melodies that etch the greatest impression here, sounding, even on first hearing, like familiar standards. Side one is the softer and perhaps more indelible side, with songs such as “A Song For You,” “To A Maddening Ghost” and “Living In Quiet Desperation” manifest as contemplative narratives boasting memorable melodies easily the equal of any crafted by those aforementioned influences. An unexpectedly jaunty version of the Rolling Stones’ “Mother’s Little Helper” keeps to the theme, but muddles the context, just as a sassy take on Amy Rigby’s taunting “Are We Ever Gonna Have Sex Again” enlivens the generally more upbeat disc two, while still managing to stay within the parameters of the pathos imbued in the album as a whole. A brilliant, affecting and wholly satisfying initiative, Motherlode is one of the yet-to-be discovered treasures of the year and just possibly, the decade to date.
– Listening with Lee Zimmerman