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Rosie Thomas

Sub Pop

The press has been enjoying the Rosie Thomas hook that she’s both a character-based comedian, a la Andy Kaufman, and a singer-songwriter whose evocative songs draw on her life. Of course, here in the Other Washington, we’re not likely to see the Seattle-based Thomas’ comic alter ego, the Lisa Loopner-esque Sheila, in the local yuks-for-bucks joint. But humor, coupled with good sense and a very grown-up optimism, leavens and flavors Thomas’ debut album, When We Were Small, on which the 25-year-old delivers her simple songs with a minimum of embellishment. Her tuned but slightly tinny piano, reminiscent of Liz Phair’s on “Canary” and “Chopsticks,” gilds the heartbreakers “Lorraine” and “Farewell” with authenticity. Snippets of childhood recordings between some of the tracks suggest affection for her family—as well as the ache of loss that comes from growing up and growing away. And lyrics like “I’ll…let you win me in a hand of poker”—from the country love ballad “2 Dollar Shoes”—prove that Thomas is too buoyant to be yet another singer-songwriter victim. The power of a song such as “Wedding Day” is that even though Thomas may not realize her vagabond fantasies (“I’m gonna drive to the ocean/Go skinny dippin’, blow kisses to Venus and Mars/I’m gonna stop at every bar/And flirt with the cowboys in front of their girlfriends”), you believe that she nevertheless has the gumption to do it. Thomas’ clear, slightly breathy voice is reminiscent of Sarah McLachlan’s, for better or worse, and her lovely liquid glissandi make up for an occasional lapse into that nasal tone that passes for anguish among lesser singers. With folky melodies such as “Have You Seen My Love?” she can take you back to the troubadour ’60s—even if you weren’t there in the first place. Best of all, she leaves you wanting more: The album’s most powerful track, “Farewell,” is just over three minutes, and the lover’s counsel “October” is a devastatingly economical 2:21. Sure, she goes a little Tori on the rocker “I Run” (“I’m praying that my savior would just place a gun in my hands”), but if anyone gets caught in a compromising photo with a piglet, odds are it’ll be Sheila, not the levelheaded Rosie. —Pamela Murray Winters