So I have a confession. As many of you know I have recently become mildly obsessed with the music of Sara Bareilles, after months of being too cool for it.
Allow me to chronicle my inevitable conversion.
The first time I paid any attention to her was when my sister bought her “Little Voice” CD while we were at Virgin Megastore awhile back. I had just bought some old school Bob Dylan and Van Morrison albums, and was not in the mood for the next pop star. I heard the first pounding ascending bass notes of Sara’s in her famous “Love Song,” and thought “hmph, cool” but then I shrugged and put my iPod headphones on to drown out her music. I was simply not interested in what I had deemed in my snooty mind to be polished, commercialized music so I shut it out.
The next time I heard her name was Australia Day at Outback Steakhouse, when Matt was trying to explain to me why “Bubbly” by Colbie Caillat was a terrible song by comparing it to the ingenuity of “Love Song.” Honestly, other than that first G minor chord intro, I hadn’t really taken the time to listen to “Love Song” beyond that, so I kind of just stared blankly back at Matt.
This was also the evening we all watched the movie “Once” together, and Matt once again tried to convince me of the awesomeness of Love Song, which I immediately rejected, especially after Matt started pounding away on our couch pillows, playing the song on air piano.
Now allow me to say that I realize that this song has been topping the charts since last summer, but since I rarely listen to radio I was of course light years behind the rest of society in terms of popular music.
Next, I saw Sara briefly interviewed on Ellen DeGeneres’s show, although I don’t recall her playing after the interview. She didn’t seem to be a typical pop star… she seemed fairly down-to-earth and it appeared that she worked very hard to get where she was—6 years of playing out and touring before anybody took notice. She toured with Aqualung, Mika and Rocco DeLuca and the Burden. Also my sister mentioned to me that she co-headlined a tour with Jon McLaughlin, which automatically made her ten times cooler in my mind. So I started warming up, having been introduced to her tour credentials.
Finally, one evening I borrowed my sister’s car because I didn’t trust the windshield wipers on my car to handle the rain that had been falling all night. Also my dashboard light fuse was blown, which makes driving at night in the rain much scarier. Anyway, in a fit of spontaneity, I decided to take the long way home, and cranked up disc 1 in Miriam’s disc changer and it happened to be… yep, you guessed it… Sara Bareilles.
I could blame it on the slow and steady rain, the unexpected route through winding side streets of Orlando or the mood I was in. But whatever the reason, I was instantly converted.
I actually listened to the lyrics this time and heard the playful wit and take-charge tone of Love Song. It was empowering without feeling fake or feminist. I finally listened to her lyrics and her melodies and was blown away by their unpredictability. She had enough sass and know-how (and occasional saltiness) to be edgy, but there was still vulnerability and introspection that did not seem contrived or overdone, but playfully insightful and refreshing. The lyrics and subtle string orchestration of the song “Gravity” also got to me on an emotional level.
She tricks and melts and slides her voice over lyrics and melody with so much soul. It didn’t feel derivative or bland like so much new music these days. It seemed fresh, original and something I could track with.
Of course, then I went to the Hotel Café show @ The Parish in Austin and the rest, as they say, is history. The funny thing is, especially after a week in SXSW and hearing a lot of amazing (and not so amazing) singers, it hit me that she’s not necessarily the best vocalist out there. There are plenty of other singers out there with more range, control, technical ability, etc. You can tell she hasn’t had any formal training. But her marriage of raw vocal ability with her uncanny ability to pen the perfectly un-perfect melody and lyric is what makes her a stand-out artist, in my opinion.
Achieving that for one song is one thing. But for all 12 tracks to be strong, varied, compelling and just plain FUN to listen to takes a true artist.
I am now a bona fide Sara Bareilles fan.