Sometimes change is not only good, but necessary. Heather Kropf has been a musician in Pittsburgh for almost two decades, earning acclaim for her evocative singing and songwriting. She could have stayed on the same path, performed with the same musicians, and her music would still be irresistible.
But a desire to expand her musical footprint, to see if she could find a wider audience, spurred Kropf to step outside her comfort zone. “Lights,” Kropf’s new album, is her finest. Recorded in Nashville with producer Lex Price and an all-star cast of musicians, the album rewards the decision to change her routine.
“If I kept doing the same thing over and over, I would have the same results,” Kropf says. “If I didn’t try something fundamentally different, I would never get a different experience.”
Kropf first sought a producer who could realize her vision. Enter Price, who has worked with musicians including ranging from k. d. lang, Rodney Crowell, to Neko Case, and produced music for Mindy Smith.
“I knew these songs needed someone other than me guiding the arrangements,” Kropf says. “I feel like they were somehow beyond me.”
Collaborating with Price allowed Kropf – who previously produced her own records -- the freedom to concentrate on vocals and piano, resulting in some of her finest recorded performances. No matter the arrangement – the mid-tempo pop of “Ghost Town,” the achingly spare “Love Light,” the haunting rhythm of “Winter Sun” – Kropf’s honeyed vocals are mesmerizing. Think of Suzanne Vega with a dash of Joni Mitchell thrown in, and you get an approximation of Kropf’s sound.
The songs on “Lights” are about rejuvenation and loss, and coping with the increasing fragility of the world. Kropf admits the current unrest in the country mirrors her personal life, notably the dissolution of a long-term relationship and an ongoing uncertainty about her sense of place.
The musicians on "Lights" include Price on bass, guitarist Tim Young, keyboardist Steve Moore, drummer Ian Fitchuk, Joshua Grange, Luke Reynolds and engineer Joe Costa. Their collective contributions resulted in a sonically arresting sound that was different from her past efforts.
“Heather was really open to new ideas and stretching herself,” says Price. “She’s been playing some of these songs live and when we wanted to take them in a different direction, she was open to that.”
The band created a lush backdrop that gives Kropf and her songs center stage. That approach meshes with the ideas that are the core of “Lights.”
“By being true to our own hearts we become a part of something so much bigger,” Kropf says.