September 2000

Tish Hinojosa - Sign of Truth
Rounder 11661-3172-2
Released: 2000

by Marc Rigrodsky

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ***1/2

[Reviewed on CD]Travel with me to a place deep in the heart of Texas -- Austin, specifically. People say Austin is not much like the rest of the state, which, they also claim, is not necessarily a bad thing. Austin is known for lots of stuff: Texas Longhorns football, that unfortunate business with the clock tower a few years back, the current occupant of the governor’s mansion, and progressive country music. Let us ignore the first three items and concentrate on the last. A lot of damn good music comes out of Austin -- think of it as Nashville with both brains and soul.

So -- pick a recording studio in Austin. Start with a veteran folkie and some high-quality musicians to back her up. Add equal parts pop, folk, R&B, soul, country, norteņo, rock ‘n roll and what do you get? Tish Hinojosa"s new album, Sign of Truth, of course (where did you think this was going?).

Hinojosa has been around for awhile, having started out in Nashville about 20 years ago, before returning to Texas. She is known as an advocate of bilingual education, and has a history of social activism, supporting union and feminist causes. But Sign of Truth is no politically correct, primed-for-NPR workout -- consider it Hinojosa's "secular" album. Surrounding herself with electric guitars, organ and, on occasion, a horn section, and singing about the trials and tribulations of love and life, Hinojosa appears to be reaching for a hit record in the everyday world. I don’t think she succeeds, but her effort is worthy.

Sign of Truth is a composite of the various musical genres noted above, sometimes two or more being combined in any given song. The influences aren’t hard to spot. The title track, for example, is a country-pop workout; "Fire and Winter’s" Latin-inflected R&B -- the latter could be Ricky Martin’s next hit (assuming he ever has a next hit). "Fence Post" is classic ‘70s piano pop -- think Eric Carmen. "Song for the Journey" is straight folk. "Faded Souvenir" is a should-have-been-a-hit R&B lament. It probably would have been in a different era.

Hinojosa has a lovely, smooth voice, but she’s no belter. Her voice caresses her songs (all of which she wrote or co-wrote), but never soars above them -- the songs are mixed so that her voice is audible, but never overwhelms the music.

Musically, Sign of Truth is a solid record, with its pastiche of musical influences, warm vocals, and pretty melodies. Lyrically, however, it is uneven. The songs are typical singer-songwriter ruminations on mostly internal landscapes. There are few overt references to social issues (interestingly, all of the songs are in English, with a few Spanish verses). Hinojosa is capable of turning the occasional phrase. In "Fence Post," she sings "I’m feeling like a fencepost/Looking at a rail yard/Everything’s grey/My heart’s pinned away/My feet are nailed to the ground." It’s a nice description of a bad case of the blues. More frequently, her words cleave to the mundane. Take "Roses Around My Feet:" "Roses around my feet/Are telling me something/Roses around my feet/I used to feel nothing." Oh. Or: "Hey little love of mine/I want to tell you/Hey little love of mine/I’m here to stay" from, you guessed it, "Hey Little Love." Nothing you haven’t heard before. Still, this is pop, and no one ever said pop was supposed to be Shakespearean.

If you like Austin singer-songwriters who put in a solid performance and aren’t afraid to branch out from straight country and folk, this record might be for you. On the other hand, if you’re looking for something edgy, you won’t find it here.