There is much about the contemporary singer-songwriter scene that fails to compel me — often times depressing (and self-obsessed to what must surely be an unhealthy degree), the lyrics sometime seem better suited to sappy blog entries.
Thus I was delighted to discover the two albums Naomi Sommers has thus far released, Flying Through (2002) and Hypnotized (2004), both of them surprisingly mature offerings from a young singer-songwriter who has much more than navel-gazing to offer.
Given Sommers’ background in American folk and bluegrass, it’s not surprising both albums contain songs that are picturesque and rich in detail, accompanied by a variety of acoustic strings, augmented here and there with other voices and other instruments, all of which work together to support and enhance, but never overwhelm, the stories being told.
Flying Through contains 13 tracks, 12 of which were written by Sommers (the exception being Jesse Winchester’s “Lay Down Your Burden”). Opening the CD booklet is a bit like browsing someone’s family album, embellished as it is with personal photos and credits that establish the role Sommers’ family members have played in bringing this work to fruition.
A broad range of musical influences can be felt throughout, although as a whole the music defies simple categorization. Blues and jazz flirt around the outskirts of songs like “Hard to Love You” and the title track (underscored here by the use of electric guitar), while “It’ll Be Alright” has a country-tinged feel.
The standout tracks on Flying Through are “Watershed Song” and the achingly lovely “Crying With the Moon”, the latter of which reminds us that “… we need women to laugh and give their being/To give more than any arms can bear.”
Hypnotized is an intimate collection of 13 songs (10 of which are Sommers’ own compositions) about love — love possessed, love lost, love hoped for, and the kind of love that one shares with friends and family members. For example, the first track, “Hypnotizing,” describes the numbed existence of a lover left behind, the second song, “Now He’s Gone,” is a tribute to a beloved family dog no longer here (and if you have a dog or a cat in your life, I dare you to listen to it without a little catch in your throat), and another, “Come Home,” is addressed to a friend fighting in Iraq – the singer doesn’t quite comprehend the “why” but is all too aware of the peril, and just wants the soldier to “come home.”
Sommers’ delivery is clear-voiced and unaffected, and the simplicity of her approach serves to enhance the understated emotional punch of her songs. Managing to convey loss, heartbreak, and doubt without wallowing in self-pity is usually the province of older songwriters, but it’s a task she accomplishes neatly on both albums.
So if you find yourself in the mood for songs in an acoustic vein that manage to be simultaneously simple and sophisticated, combining richly drawn lyrics with melodic hooks that will soon have you singing along quietly, these two beautifully played and sung albums are a nice place to start. It’s the kind of music that creeps up on you quietly and takes you pleasantly by surprise.