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Hinojosa keeps the faith

Sign of Truth
Sign of Truth
By Tish Hinojosa

Rounder Records: 2000

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This review first appeared in the July 3, 2000 edition of the American Reporter.

In an interview a couple years ago with a San Diego area Web site, Tish Hinojosa confessed that she wanted to breakthrough to the mainstream – that she wanted the kind of commercial success that would provide financial security for her family as well as a broader audience for her music.

She wants to be famous.

To those of us who have fallen in love with Hinojosa's lovely voice and touchingly evocative songs, such words send a chill down the spine. Not that she doesn't have every right to want more, not that we wouldn't want her to gain the recognition her talent and hard work surely warrant, but one worries about how such hopes might alter her music.

For the wonder and beauty of Hinojosa's music rest on the naked honesty of her songwriting. More even than the sheer silkiness of her voice (the purest this side of Judy Collins) or the catchy little melodies she keeps turning out, what makes her special is her willingness to say things about life that normally aren't said, things we normally edit out of conversations in the interests of politeness.

Would someone who aches for fame and recognition be able to keep that kind of honesty in her music?

In Hinojosa's case, yes.

"Sign of Truth" is her best set of songs since 1992's classic "Culture Swing" – heck, this one is so good, it may be even better than "Culture Swing."

Certainly, though, songs like "Taste of Dying Summer," "I Have No Answers" and "Wildflowers" are among the most touching songs ever laid down. It's hard to think of another artist who has Hinojosa's touch at blending sentiment and melody. She never gets maudlin, never lets herself fall into silliness or schmaltz. Rather, like Hemingway and Faulkner, Hinojosa has the ability to capture emotion without getting emotional.

And a huge part of the charm of Hinojosa's music is her ability to meld Mexican, country-western and rock into her tunes. She still switches back and forth from English to Spanish, and still makes it seem as natural as breathing.

Will this new album make Hinojosa rich and famous? Were it a just world, we'd not even have to ask the question.

Whether fame and fortune come her way or not, though, Tish Hinojosa continues to create a body of work with real value and meaning. Those of us lucky enough to have discovered her know the magic she is capable of, know the beauty and grace she carries.

If only that were enough.