Today's pop world is heavily populated with manufactured female stars. There are a myriad of ways to become a Top 40 siren these days, it seems-starring in a reality show or a movie, chief among them-but possessing a unique and natural vocal ability is often the least of the prerequisites.
Which is why, when a homegrown singer like Hope Partlow comes along, the world can't help but sit back and notice, ears wide open to the transcendentally genuine tones of a major artist in the making.
Though the phrases "plucked from obscurity" or "straight off the farm" do not do justice to the richness of Partlow's background, it is an inescapable fact that just two short years ago, the precociously talented young singer was getting up at five a.m. to pick peas on her family's farm in the tiny town of Drummonds, Tennessee, 45 minutes north of Memphis. Today, that same girl-all of 16-years-old now-is putting the finishing touches on her Virgin Records debut CD, set for release this summer.
It was in the simple rural setting of her family's farmstead that Partlow's talent first began to bud. By day, she and her three siblings worked the land. "We grow everything-potatoes, tomatoes, peas," she says proudly." But peas are the worst-you have to get up so early in the morning to pick them."
By night, Partlow pursued her goal of becoming a singer, heading down to the Strand Theater in nearby Millington to sing country songs while her Dad played guitar. "The first time I got onstage, I was five years old, and I sang 'Folsom Prison Blues,'" she says, chuckling at the memory. "Actually, I made the train sounds, and my father sang the song. People tipped based on how much they liked you-I made twenty-five dollars that night." Together, she and her father learned hundreds of country and gospel songs, all of which became part of their live repertoire over the years.
It didn't take long for the young girl with the deep, rich voice to gain a devoted following. "I knew I could sing well," she says, "and people were always coming up to my Dad saying, 'She's unique, she's different. You need to try to get some record company people to hear her.'" With the help of her aunt, who is a songwriter in Nashville, Partlow and her parents decided to write and record her first demo. One thing led to another, and it wasn't long before Partlow found herself performing an impromptu gig in the offices of Virgin Chairman and CEO Matt Serletic. By then a seasoned performer, the singer clinched her very first record contract-at the tender age of 14.
Though Partlow spent her early years singing the country and gospel songs that were native to her Tennessee roots, her musical tastes now veer more toward pop and rock. "I love country music," she says, "but I feel that I am at a place in my life where I can better express myself through pop music."
The songs on Partlow's debut album arose from a series of intimate and creative collaborations with a group of specially-selected songwriters. Through long talks with the singer--and an occasional peek into the contents of her private diary-the writers were able to fashion songs that matched the strength and power of her voice but also conveyed the very palpable sensitivity of a girl digging down deep, getting in touch with feelings of love and loss for the very first time. "When you're just starting to mature as an artist, it's helpful to be writing with people and telling them what you're going through," says Partlow. The sessions proved to be extraordinarily productive-and cathartic-for the singer, yielding an array of uncompromisingly affecting songs by such accomplished tunesmiths as Angie Aparo (Faith Hill's "Cry," Big & Rich's "Big Time"), Kevin Kadish (Stacie Orrico's "More To Life," and Dan Wilson (Semisonic's "Closing Time").
After songwriting was complete, Partlow moved to New York City to record with Grammy-winning producer Serletic, whose credits include hits by matchbox twenty, Rob Thomas, Santana, Aerosmith, Celine Dion, and Willie Nelson. "Matt is a dream to work with," she says. "He really helped me dig down and discover more of myself as an artist."
The album that has resulted from these sessions demonstrates a singer with a remarkable sense of self-possession. Songs like "Who We Are," "Cold" and "Everywhere But Here" offer fiercely passionate proclamations of emotional empowerment, driven by forceful guitar grooves and propulsive programming. More contemplative tracks like "It's Too Late" and "Let Me Try" partake of the country and gospel influences of Partlow's youth, beautifully expressing the yearning vulnerability of a singer who long ago learned the art of conveying the most heartfelt emotion through song.
Though the scenery has changed for this homegrown talent, the roots of her Tennessee upbringing will always run deep. "I loved being in New York working on my album," she says. "But I always miss my home. I miss the sunlight and the open space. When I'm home, I often take a walk to the Mississippi River to just sit and relax."
There will always be an aspect of a simpler American way of life in everything Hope Partlow does. You can see it in her wide open smile. You can hear it in the subtle Southern lilt of her speaking voice. Best of all, you can experience it time and time again in the soaring vocals of her remarkable debut album. "It's funny, but singing is a way for me to experience my memories," she says, "but it's also something that has constantly driven me forward and helped me grow."
--- from the official Hope Partlow website