Jessica Hoop

Red Ink

Jesca Hoop once served as nanny to Tom Waits's kids, a connection that bore more fruit than simple child-rearing —Waits's influence on her debut album is unmistakable. Hoop does not plumb the gravelly depths so crucial to the Waits sound, but on Kismet, she does subscribe to his musical philosophy of bending, twisting, and breaking her voice to evoke a huge range of characters, from the sultry to the childlike.

On "Silverscreen," she adopts a Joanna Newsom-like accent, a tiny mouse-voice peeking out of a foreboding curtain of oompa beat, until the song swells and her voice opens into a fat and sassy clarion. But on "Havoc in Heaven," she alternately tunes her instrument to a sylph of euphony and a plodding workhouse-march, weaving both around the instrumentation. The result of her vocal deceits is the transportation of the listener to a land of old-fashioned microphones, driftwood, and Southern Gothic grotesques.

The most stirring example—and the strongest track on the album—is "Love Is All We Have." Hoop wrote the song in the midst of Hurricane Katrina, and it's haunted by the drowned and starved—"The old church bell/Oh lace and stone/The naked feet/Pound the pavement/Of nameless streets/Oh faceless homes." The instrumentation is brilliant in its simplicity—a soft military snare, a walking acoustic line, and, running throughout the song, the sound of straining boat timbers. But it is Hoop's soprano, floating ghostlike on the surface, that sends shivers down the spine.

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