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Kropf emerges into new musical level with 'Chrysalis'

| Wednesday, June 18, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Singer/musician Heather Kropf in Highland Park on Friday June 6, 2014.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Singer/musician Heather Kropf in Highland Park on Friday June 6, 2014.

Her diction is peerless, her lyrics are succinct. But Heather Kropf wants the songs on her new album, “Chrysalis,” to transcend mere words.

“I'd like to think that even if you didn't speak English, you could understand the content of the songs,” says Kropf, who will release the album June 22 at Pittsburgh Winery in the Strip District.

Kropf has been cast as a singer-songwriter since she came to Pittsburgh from Goshen College in Indiana in the late 1990s. That designation has served her well, although her keyboard-oriented music transcends the typical navel-gazing material of the genre. With “Chrysalis,” her first studio album since 2005's “What Else Is Love,” Kropf purposely sought to distant herself from that designation and her own past work.

“I was trying not to write from of point of view as ‘Heather Kropf as a brand,' ” she says.

Vocally, Kropf is similar to Suzanne Vega and Tracey Thorn, singers who are constantly tweaking their musical palettes. On “Chrysalis,” Kropf follows a similar path, having enlisted Jeff Berman of the trio folk/jazz trio AppalAsia as a co-producer.

“Jeff and I worked very hard on finding the right arrangements, the right settings,” she says.

Berman brought in musicians such as Chris Parker (guitar), Pete Freeman (pedal steel) and Skip Sanders (Hammond B3 organ) to add new elements to Kropf's sound.

“On some songs, we added more pedal steel by Pete because it fit so perfectly,” Kropf says. “On other songs where we thought we were going to use dobro, we used dulcimer.”

Kropf also was pleased with Parker's contributions, noting that his guitar “is not your typical Pittsburgh guitar sound.” But more than anything else, Kropf thinks she has found her musical sweet spot with “Chrysalis.”

“I tend to write songs that are beyond what I can do vocally,” she says. “A lot of times, I'm really challenged by that. But after I did ‘What Else Is Love.' I wanted to make records where I am singing and making songs that suit me as an artist, what I can do. In that way, the new record was a real challenge.”

Rege Behe is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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