Sean Hopkins is a singer/songwriter based out of New Hope, Pennsylvania – an art enclave located between New York City and Philadelphia. He is best known as a folk and alternative guitarist. Earlier in his career Hopkins was the songwriter, bass player and singer in an alternative band located in Philly called Stranger to Stranger, which received both college and commercial airplay. After a significant layoff from music, Hopkins shifted to the acoustic guitar and sought to blend his alternative influences with folk, trying to merge the beauty of acoustic guitars and folk, with the angst and longing that can be found in the indie arena. His latest release, Chasing Ghosts in the Dark, was recorded in his home studio. Hopkins penned all the songs, did all the primary and backing vocals, as well as all primary and backing acoustic guitars, using a 1988 Martin D35, a 1990 Martin J40 and a 2019 Taylor 314CE with V bracing. He also added some of the electric guitars and bass tracks. The album was produced by Woody Jiang (an artist in his own right with a recent solo release titled The Experience is Real) using Pro Tools. Jiang also served as a session musician and added additional electric guitars and bass, as well as digital drums, vibraphone, piano and strings. The album is a collection of experiences both personal and formative. Several songs were written after excursions that took Hopkins to distant places (“Winter's Breath” - Key West, “Dream a Dream” - Paris, “Wish with Me” - Costa Rica). These trips had an impact on him, as he was witness to the history associated with architecture and culture, as well as the simplicity of reveling in the simple things in life. Other songs are about relationships both personal and observed.
“All I Ever Wanted” starts things off with a dreamy, echoing acoustic sound with a mellow and light contemporary style. The additional echoing electric adds depth and spaciousness. Coupled with the full acoustic, and warm bass tones makes for a very lovely opening track. “Light Shades Grey” begins with Hopkins playing a rolling acoustic rhythm that has a beautiful melody to it, which he plays throughout the song. Bass comes in much later, giving the song rich, warm tones. Lyrically, this song is about trying to not let life, or time, get you down – “close your eyes, everything’s fine… let’s stay in tonight.” A wonderfully written song, with simple timeless reminders. “Winter’s Breath” has an ambient feel to it. There is space in it – textures and echoes between the electric and acoustic – and the vibe and style feels like it was written just for winter. Overall, Hopkins’ lyrics and musical arrangement were poetic, and the song itself felt like some of the classic folk tunes from the ‘60s. Next up is “Like a Whisper” and is has a lively, indie rhythm. A good balance on instruments all around and backing vocals – a song that should be listened to on the headphones. “Tears Surround You” has a nice, simple acoustic structure and a classic singer/songwriter, folk style. Loved the strings he added to this track, too! That, coupled with the fuller rhythm on the acoustic he plays during the chorus part, makes for a very moving song. I’d have to say this is one of my most favorite tracks.
“Never Say Never” features a full acoustic sound, with two guitars layered together and then, an electric guitar or two that have this old western movie appeal to them. But in this case, with a title like “Never Say Never,” maybe Sean was thinking more like James Bond? Probably neither. Either way, those additional guitar parts added a lot of mystery and depth to the song’s sound. The additional guitar by the way, was played by Blaise Hopkins. “A Longful Farewell” is another great example that mixes singer/songwriter tenderness with ambient textures. Drums, backing vocals and piano come in a bit later, which add a greater dynamic to this tune. This was another favorite. “Chasing Ghosts in the Dark” features a church bell or chime, and a livelier acoustic rhythm. Another acoustic and electric guitar comes in-between the verses. With words like ‘ghosts,’ a church bell in the beginning, and a brief mention of a church, I can’t help but wonder if this song was about visiting a nearby cemetery. Or maybe the words, “I’m chasing ghosts in the dark / I’ve nowhere else to go, but my emptiness” was addressing loneliness or despair that Hopkins was feeling at the time he wrote this number. “Wish With Me” I thought, was Hopkin’s happiest sounding tune on the album. Featured are a piano playing a nice melody, low drumbeats, handclaps and tambourine, a lead electric and a quick, bouncy rhythm. Overall, I thought the song’s style was earthy and alternative. Another favorite!
“Summer Stare” features what sounds like a very complicated bunch of guitar chords and switches. I mean, wow! – I don’t think my mind could keep up with what Hopkins played. Lyrically, the words suggest a vulnerability, a dependency on someone or something – “Will you wait for me / Your breath sounds like the waves out on the sea / Will you wait for me / I’m not sure who I’m supposed to be.” A lot of raw emotion packed inside one of the album’s shortest songs. “Dream a Dream” features once again Blaise Hopkins on additional guitar. This one had a sing-song quality about it, as if it was written originally as a lullaby. Overall, a tender and lovely track.
The last tune “It’s Alright” was perhaps Hopkins’ most live sounding track. Just the way his voice sounds and the rawness of his acoustic made me think that not too much mixing was done here. The piano accompaniment was a nice addition and I liked how they played in unison during the song’s chords changes – “It’s alright.” This song had gentle reminders throughout, which made for a great closing track – “Look at all the love in front of you / it’s in your life…. Hold the sun, it always comes.” As stated before, “merging the beauty of acoustic guitars and folk, with the angst and longing found in the indie arena” is what this artist does best, in my opinion. I found myself not wanting this album to end. It is consistent, extremely well written and it gave me a calm feeling. I don’t know how else to describe it. I’m willing to bet that if you listened to it again and again, you’ll find something new that you didn’t hear before. That to me is the mark of a great album, and a great artist. As mentioned in Hopkin’s bio, about how he would describe his music compared to other musicians? He states that he leaves that up to the listener. I was trying hard to think of some comparison, then it hit me – Nick Cave. I’d say that’s pretty good company to be in.
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