Singer-songwriter Kamara Thomas has long been fascinated by the American West. She grew up watching western classics helmed by the likes of gritty toughguys like Clint Eastwood and black and white reruns starring chiseled small screen actors like Clayton Moore. Often missing from so many of those Hollywood tales were truthful, in-depth depictions of Native Americans, Mexican Vaqueros and Black cowboys who shaped the west.
It's those lesser-told stories that Thomas sings about on forthcoming album Tularosa: An American Dreamtime (out May 13), largely inspired by C.L. Sonnichsen's 2005 book Tularosa: Last of the Frontier West, which tells, in Thomas' words, "true stories from this small yet mythologically rich region in New Mexico."
Thomas previews the album with "Tularosa," an epic, gripping tale from the New Mexico village.
"My obsession with the American West began as a kid, faithfully watching Clint Eastwood westerns and reruns of The Lone Ranger and The Cisco Kid on a tiny black and white TV on Chicago's local station, WGN. The wild west stories and mythologies embedded themselves deeply into my identity as an American and affected my identities as an artist, Black woman, and heroine of my own story," Thomas tells Wide Open Country. "I always felt a lonesome gulf between my own heroic self and the continuous stream of invariably white male heroes inhabiting these stories. I needed a way to insert myself meaningfully into the story of America. As a songwriter I began to be able to do this - for myself, and hopefully for a few of the legions of forgotten and marginalized people who most certainly inhabited and shaped the wild, open, mysterious places and mythologies we associate with our American landscape and culture."
Thomas calls Tularosa: Last of the Frontier West "a dream text for a songwriter."
"Songs flowed immediately, and have kept flowing ever since, some based on historical characters recognizable from the book, and some containing characters revealed by the mysterious muses of the Tularosa Basin that cannot be proven by the historical record. Only a portion of the songs have made it onto this album, a first volume," Thomas continues. "The song-cycle coincided with my expanding interest in storytelling forms - specifically theater and film. As I embarked on recording the album in 2016 I began to envision the songs inside a larger storytelling 'frame,' and over the past five years I have been creating various multidisciplinary performance works - films, videos, public performances - as containers for the telling of a larger story. I have begun workshopping what may become a 'final' storywork with the Denver theater company Band of Toughs. There is another volume of songs to come, and I am excited for the creative adventures ahead."
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