Promising debut from a gifted young songwriter and serious ukulele player.
Charissa Hoffman is a sixth-generation musician from Nashville who has not only been playing live at clubs and festivals for the better part of the past decade but who also spent time as a teenager volunteering to play for chronically ill patients at a medical facility. She was accepted into the prestigious Berklee College of Music in 2018 as the institution’s very first ukulele principal and its youngest. Listeners shouldn’t let the ukulele part frighten them. Hoffman is determined to have the oft-maligned ukulele taken seriously as an instrument appropriate to acoustic Americana, particularly her brand of sensitive, jazz-inspired folk music. She makes an excellent case with ‘different view.’
Hoffman’s masterful ukulele playing fits into this EP beautifully and understatedly. At times she makes the instrument sound like a mandolin or Celtic harp. These songs don’t resemble anything from Tiny Tim or what could be called The Great Hipster Uke Scare of 2008-2010. The material here was inspired by what Hoffman describes as a long, drawn-out breakup. That inspiration of loss and recognition of its different forms throughout her life might account for the similarity of her voice to a young Joni Mitchell’s (‘Compromise‘) or Suzanne Vega’s. The album cover shows her illustrated as a sad, dryad-like creature in a bare forest. If she’s forced to suffer romantic pain, she’s going to do it alone, singing quietly among the trees.
On the EP’s most upbeat song, the title track, she uses the changes in sunlight in a house throughout the day as a metaphor for a change in personal perspective. Through her wistful delivery, she paints the scene of what sounds like an old farmhouse, with the traditional west-facing window in the kitchen. On ‘Weigh Him Down,’ with Lucy Nelligan’s (the other half of Hoffman’s Buttonwillow duo) affecting violin backing, Hoffman is the practical, responsible, mature one in a relationship with a free-spirited partner she likens to a floating kite, a dynamic which sounds like Nick Seluk’s ‘Heart and Brain’ comic. ‘Goodbye’ is sad and minimalist, an almost sing-song musical exercise while grounding herself in the moment.
‘a different view’ is an impressive debut showcasing Hoffman as a talented innovator and songwriter who deserves more attention in the coming years as she continues to explore Americana.