Heather Kropf


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It is a common problem which core audiences have had with singer/songwriters that those early fans become accustomed to hearing songs as performed by their heroes alone on-stage with just an acoustic guitar or a piano, but when the artists get into recording studios, they come up with more elaborate arrangements intended to expand their listenership, and then the recorded versions don't sit well with the faithful. Pittsburgh singer/songwriter Heather Kropf seems to have encountered this dilemma with regard to her two albums, Sky (2000) and What Else Is Love (2005), and she dedicates her third CD, Hestia, which is half re-recordings of songs from those discs and half new material, in part to "my friends who have gently encouraged a ‘solo' effort." Hestia is not just Kropf and her piano, however. On most of the tracks, there is at least one other instrument, a pedal steel guitar or a clarinet, say, to provide some added musical color. Still, the sound is closer to what a Kropf club show sound like than her previous recordings. That places an emphasis on her classically trained piano playing and on her singing voice, which in turns tends to emphasize her similarities to other artists. Her hushed, carefully enunciated singing strongly suggests Nanci Griffith without the Texas twang, and her musical similarity to the young Joni Mitchell is unmistakable, particularly on a song like the new one, "Grace," which shares not only a sound, but also a theme with Mitchell's "For Free." Some listeners have suggested that Kropf is the Aimee Mann or Sarah McLachlan of Pittsburgh, but such comparisons, like the one to Mitchell, founder in terms of the artists' viewpoints. All of these female singer/songwriters possess streaks of melancholy and self-pity, but Kropf, despite the reserved tone of her songs, is essentially upbeat. In "Kites" (a song that appeared originally on What Else Is Love), she uses the title metaphor not in the way that someone like Mann would, as a symbol of being fettered, but as a means to express her freedom. "I feel like I'm tied down/To the highest flying kite around," she declares. "Never mind the speed of sound/I'm not coming down."

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