Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sarah Blacker - Come What May


Sarah Blacker sings in a twangy alto that floats in the quiet numbers, while still being full of emotion. Sarah Blacker sings in a twangy alto that swoops and soars in the all-out rockers. It’s clearly the same singer in both contexts. Some singers have a rock voice and a folk voice that could be two different people, but Blacker doesn’t need to do that. She doesn’t strain to get the volume, and she loses none of her feeling when she sings more quietly. I prefer the quieter numbers for their subtlety and the fact that the words become more of a centerpiece of the song. But Blacker’s dynamic range is remarkable. Blacker is also one of the few singers I know of who can elongate words by adding syllables, and make it sound good. In that way, she reminds me of Phoebe Snow.

Most of the songs on Come What May have drums, bass, acoustic and/ or electric guitar, and keyboard. So changes in texture don’t come from the instruments, but from how they are used. There is all out rock on When I Was New, more of a country-rock feel on Drivin’ and a more acoustic setting and a bit of a jazz feel to Ponder. I’m Like a Train, My Lord is just voice and acoustic guitar, while Not All the King’s Men is voice and mandolin. I miss the accordion that Blacker used on her last album, but this is still a wonderfully varied set.

The songs are mostly about relationships, but not all are love songs, at least not in the usual sense. Friend seems to me to be about the slow fading of a friendship over time. This could be a friendship that the singer wanted to become more, but Blacker’s writing perfectly captures the tentative quality of the situation. Not All the King’s Men depicts a narrator who falls for wounded birds, but finally realizes that she can not save a person who does not want it. This could be about a relationship, or a string of relationships. Either way, having been in that situation when I was younger, I can tell you that the song rings true. Elsewhere, there songs of desire, (Ponder and Smitten), and two very different kinds of brush offs, (Knocked the Winds and Shining Giant). Over all, what is clear is that Blacker has a clear sense of the subtleties of human emotion, and she can write songs of finely shaded emotion. Those fine shadings mean that Come What May is the kind of album that will start conversations about how each song should be interpreted. That is something that only fine songwriters achieve. Sarah Blacker proves here that she belongs in their company, and she backs it up with the quality of her performance.

Sarah Blacker: Ponder

Sarah Blacker: Friend