Sarah Jaffe – Suburban Nature
If there is one thing that Sarah Jaffe will never have to contend with it is the idea that she is a female singer for females. There was once a time that being a female singer meant you would undoubtedly be put into an all too snug box. Is she an angry singer? An activist singer? A singer for the victims or the singer your mom bonds with you over? To be honest, when Sarah’s new CD Suburban Nature was released on May 18th she inserted herself into and destroyed all those boxes simultaneously, because Sarah is a truth singer …and no matter who or what we are, we all need, and want, our singers to be truth singers. Jaffe’s words and voice seam like they are speaking to you, only to you, yet they contain a universal appeal evidenced by the fact that she’s recently toured with Midlake and Norah Jones. Two completely different audiences whom Jaffe, equally endearing and confident, easily won over.
Growing up in Red Oak, Texas might not be ideal circumstances for breeding the kind of talent that is encompassed in Sarah’s songs, but it does beg the question of nature verses nurture. What we have in us before we are even us, and what we interpret because of life circumstances. Writing since her early teens, many of the songs featured on Suburban Nature were written long before she could even enter the clubs were they are now performed.
Interestingly enough the first single “Vulnerable,” was written when Sarah was only 17, long before even the material on her first EP, the acclaimed Even Born Again, was produced. Even so, it comprises everything that matters about her voice. If there is one thread that flows through all of Sarah’s work, it is grappling with the self-serving cycles that are in all of us, and the aftermath that those needs deal out. “I’m a fan of life’s wicked ironies. These things that reveal the truth from an aerial view nowhere near your perspective of the situation, and through these realizations you find redemption.” And so it is with Suburban Nature.
From opening track “Before You Go,” everything sounds as wide and deep as the Grand Canyon, the sonic spread covering every degree of the mix. It’s thick enough to feel when you breathe, but spatial enough to allow for the one thing that truly matters with singer/songwriters: their voice. When talking to the albums producer and engineer John Congleton (St Vincent, Polyphonic Spree, Explosions in the Sky, Clinic) about the spacious feel of the album, he had this to say on the matter: “I think it was intentional. Both Sarah’s and my feelings on this was that the vocal should be the focal point have as much space as possible, while the music provided an emotional backdrop.”
Skilled players such as Kris Youmans - cello (Bill Callahan, The Paper Chase, Micah P Hinson) Becki Howard – violin (The Crash That Took Me) Jeff Ryan – percussion (The Baptist Generals, St Vincent, Pleasant Grove) and Robert Gomez - guitar (as himself) provide this essential emotional backdrop. Just take a listen to “Pretender” for an example of the power and talent contained in this group of players. Layers of moveable music float in, out, under and over lines such as “So here we stand, like flowers in the cold, wilt and wither/Here's your chance/Tell me what you want/I'm a forgiver.” In other situations the group provide the perfect backbeat so Sarah is free to spin yarn that might not always be fact, but like we said, is certainly truth.
On “Clementine,” she sings, “We were young, we were young, we were young, we didn't care.” Although only 24 you actually believe her. You believe her because you believe that no matter what her actual age, she lived through the war of a relationship or fifty that aged her to her core, and now her soul speaks to yours in the places where you have aged, and set down roots that flow as grid in a suburb becoming part of your nature. This is why we need singers like Sarah Jaffe and albums like Suburban Nature: We need a truth singer to be a soothsayer, and help heal us in the broken places of our time.
Since the release of Suburban Nature, Sarah has toured constantly, hitting both Europe and the US with Midlake, as well as supporting such varied artists as Norah Jones, Lou Barlow, Centro-matic and Old 97s. “Clementine” Sarah’s debut single reached the #1 spot at various radio stations including Austin’s influential KGSR and Sirus’ Spectrum. Sarah and Suburban Nature landed in many 2010 “Best of Lists” including: Paste Magazine’s 10 Best New Solo Artists, 50 Best Albums, and 50 Best Songs; Amazon.com’s Best Albums and Song’s; USA Today’s Pop Candy 100 People of 2010.
Sarah released The Way Sound Leaves a Room, a CD/DVD combo on September 27, 2011. In early 2012, Sarah will release the follow up to Suburban Nature.