Singer-Songwriter Hope Dunbar is a pioneer of the new American prairie style – the incarnation of Americana and Country-Folk sound staking claim under a big sky, shouting at the north wind, digging in and refusing to leave.
It’s early morning in Utica, Nebraska, population 800. The three kids are off at school, her minister husband has begun his day at the church, so Hope Dunbar settles down at her kitchen table to write songs. Behind where she sits, a window opens on what most would consider an empty vista: a dirt road disappearing through fields toward a flat horizon. Hope sees art in the simple and spins tales of limitless possibility, conjures stories of people near and far, living lives inside similar walls, internal and external. Where you’d least expect to find the mystical is where Hope Dunbar’s songs live. And after her morning writing, Dunbar heads out to to begin her shift at a cafe in town. “I write like a sailor knowing the ship is going down. / This is my flare in the night, hoping that one day I might be found.”
“And Hope Dunbar, from little Utica, Nebraska, caught me off guard with some incredible language and truth telling, including the mystical, “We Want.” It’s these kind of surprises in the after-midnight hours when the endorphins of music ecstacy meet the endorphins of fatigue, that make Folk Alliance special.”
– Craig Havighurst, Nashville Journalist and host of Music City Roots
Dunbar’s newest release, Three Black Crows, heralds a strong new voice in the singer-songwriter genre. An unexpected voice of simplicity and authority, honesty and hope. A voice that could not come from anywhere other than the expansive land of her home. She was born in Southern California, but traveled as a young girl, a peripatetic childhood that landed her for six months in Paraguay. Her parents eventually settled in Mission Viejo, California. At university, she met and married her husband and moved with him to a small town in Iowa, where he had been appointed to minister at a Lutheran church. To help her adjust to these surroundings, she started singing folk songs with a new friend, at public libraries, farmer’s markets and fairs. They eventually settled in Utica, Nebraska, an unlikely place for a restless artist, falling in love with the craft of writing, but Hope is a writer with an ability to find truth in overlooked spaces “I really enjoy the empty space,” she says. “There’s no noise where I live in Utica that can get in the way of what my brain wants to write about.”
Dunbar’s songs live on two planes simultaneously. One describes the everyday routines to which we all eventually surrender. The other zooms in on the people who move through their habitual rituals. Her target is the sorrow from which they’ve learned to hide but can never escape, reconciling the two with resignation.
Three Black Crows is a masterful overlay of gentle acoustic textures, emotional turbulence and philosophical insight. Produced by Emily White, with a guest appearance by Darrell Scott, a long-time mentor to Hope, “These songs are based on the people I see every day. In a small town, you get real close to your neighbors. You hear about moms and dads who lost a son you didn’t even know they had because you weren’t there when they died. Their loss will never go away but they’re living with it. They keep going because they have to.
“If anybody needs a song, it’s these people.”