published: 18 /
Superb and ultimately hopeful eighth album from Nashville-based singer-songwriter Doug Hoekstra
On his masterly 2001 album, ‘Around the Margins’, the Chicago-born and now Nashville-based singer-songwriter Doug Hoekstra showed himself to be an especially adept performer, able to switch at a stroke of his guitar or piano across the blues, country, pop, rock, folk and gospel, and to slip easily, often several times in the same song, from one of those genres to another.
The years in between have seen him release ‘The Past is Never Past’ (2001), an odds-and-sods compilation ; ‘Waiting’(2004), a stark, acoustic record which he played largely solo ; ‘Su Casa Mi Casa' (2005), a live album, and ‘Bothering the Coffee Drinkers’ (2006), a fine collection of short stories.
Now Hoekstra has returned to the format and blueprint of ‘Around the Margins’ with ‘Blooming Roses’, his eighth and latest album. It finds him, and the fifteen other musicians who make dotting appearances across it, experimenting with a rich diversity of instruments including an accordion, strings, synths, a ukulele, a mando guitar and even Hoekstra’s five year old son Jude’s toy piano.
The easy-on-the ear melodies and the gentle, but sudden changes in genre, which made ‘Around the Margins’ such a delight, are all present on ‘Blooming Roses’. Yet while Hoekstra has always relied on understatement to get his point across in the past, lulling his listener into his narratives with his half whispered, half spoken vocals, ‘Blooming Roses’ also reveals another unheard, different side to him by including in its track listing two ballsy rockers, ‘Your Sweet Love’ and ‘Part of the Problem, Part of the Solution’.
Hoekstra has always had a keen personal and political conscience, and the jangling 'Your Sweet Love' has its protagonist, with much of the rest of his life having not worked out, grabbing at a chance at some sort of redemption through love. The feisty latter track recalls Springsteen and the E Street Band with its squalling saxophone and its pumping press. After looking at an egomanical politician, a Donald Trump-style developer about to erase a historical neighbourhood, and an angry mob on the brink of rioting, it comes to the conclusion that we all, through our actions, whether great or small, have a culpability and responsibility for others.
While never anything but a realist in his world vision, Hoekstra also has a sometimes offbeat eye for hope. On the breezy, soft folk-pop of the title track, Hoekstra takes pleasure and finds a cause for optimism in the small miracle of a flower bed of roses growing wildly in the garden plot of an otherwise broken down neighbourhood. The ukelele-led jazz of 'The Naper Vegas Scrabble Club' tells of the old-world scrabble club of the title, which with the rest of society changing not necessarily for the better around it, continues against the odds to temporarily free itself of life's tragedies by meeting every second week. The protagonist of the cello-driven 'Gavin Geist' is meanwhile a bullied and much abused high school maths boffin, who many years later heroically re-emerges at a school reunion, under the name of Gwendoline, as a far more confident woman.
With this latest album, Doug Hoekstra has returned with another superbly-crafted album of excellent material. 'Blooming Roses' offers thankfully more of the same, and also something very different.
The Best There Ever Was
Naper Vegas Scrabble Club
Your Sweet Love
Part of the Problem, Part of the Solution
Everywhere Is Somewhere
Have a Listen:-