I wonder if growing up in a Mormon home will be the new preacher’s daughter when it comes to musician backgrounds. If so, Jesca Hoop has a head start, because that’s her background — but as far as her music goes, it’s not the most important part of her background. She somehow ended up working as a nanny for Tom Waits’ kids — raise your hand if you’re having a hard time picturing Tom Waits in dad mode — and her music impressed him. Now she’s released her second album, Hunting My Dress, after a move to the UK.
There is a lot to like about Jesca Hoop and this album. Her songs have clear folk influences, but aren’t content to stick with a simple singer-songwriter format; she plays with harmony and melody and the tracks feel more like they flow out untethered than unfold. Her focus on percussion is also a nice change for the genre. “Whispering Light” is a strong opening track, slowly sucking the listener in with its unusual harmonies.
But for all that, I can’t quite get behind this album. Hoop’s enunciation kind of drives me crazy on some songs, because it feels very forced and inauthentic — too proper, too unnatural. In other songs, the production on her vocals is a distraction rather than an enhancement. And the meandering nature that serves songs like the first one well prevents others like “Angel Mom” from really finding their grounding.
I can see what Waits saw in Hoop’s music: she is doing something different from many of her contemporaries, and she definitely has her own voice. If she relies only on that and cuts out the forays into unnecessary quirkiness, she could release something really strong; this album is already partway there, but not entirely.