When S.J. Tucker sings about a “dream of Mississippi,” on a song with the same name, she knows well what she’s talking about. Although she’s evolved into a fairly cosmopolitan alternative folk singer, Tucker’s roots are in the South (specifically Arkansas). She’s also known as “Skinny White Chick,” which — although it might describe her physical build — doesn’t come close to informing one about her musical style. With the way she sings like a saucy blues singer during “Sultry Summer Night,” it’s clear this singer/songwriter has learned her many musical lessons well over the years.
Stolen Season is the artist’s 14th album over a recorded career that first began in 2004 with a recording titled Haphazard. The music on this latest offering incorporates a multitude of differing sonic elements, which is why Tucker gets compared to other overtly eclectic artists, like Ani DiFranco and Joni Mitchell. Tucker has a way of working in many different styles, even though folk music is her sonic base. She’s been known to apply electronica, spoken word and multiple world music vibes into her sound.
This album’s title track is a somber, slow tune built upon mournful violin and strummed acoustic guitar. The song’s lyric speaks about a seeming romantic encounter that takes on a fairy tale-like feel. “We spent a stolen season taking all that we could take,” Tucker sings during its chorus. Interestingly, during the outro Tucker sings, “There must be some way out of hear,” which is a direct quote from Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.”
“Stolen Season” is followed by the simplified “Handsome Rogue,” which is little more than Tucker’s voice over strummed guitar. Although she’s not afraid to add layer upon layer of instrumental elements, this quiet song is stripped down to its very basics. It’s the sort of song one can easily imagine Tucker singing at a folk festival to hushed fans out on the lawn of some park or other.
“Little Bird,” though, contrasts greatly from what precedes it. Yes, it also incorporates plenty of acoustic guitar. However, there is also Latin-y percussion and a backing vocal chorus, too. The song’s lyric relies upon a universal theme – that of letting your natural instincts have their way. No matter who you are, there are circumstances that sometimes hold you back from being who you were really meant to be. However, if you’re a bird, you really ought to spread your wings and fly, as well as raise your voice and sing. This is an upbeat, positive and fun song.
The album ends with “Believe In Lullabies (After Hours),” which is a quieter version of a song that also appears earlier on the recording. Although its sung to a minor key – not the usual structure of a lullaby – Tucker nevertheless performs it in a pretty, empathetic manner that would surely lead most young children into peaceful slumber.
Stolen Season is a strong, widely varying collection of songs. Tucker is both a strong singer and a smart songwriter, which is an unbeatable artistic combination. This is an album for anyone that appreciates stellar songwriting.