Lie to Me

Lie to Me is one of the more direct songs Sara has written in her entire catalog. Ben Folds get co-writing credit here, was the producer on the track and provided the string orchestration. Upon first listen one might gather from it’s upbeat tempo and pop-like structure that this song is happy and destined to climb the charts of bubblegum pop. But to truly understand the song, it’s necessary to read the lyrics. This is not a happy song. In fact it’s rather dark, taken from the perspective of a person who has been burned one too many times by a certain someone, and now is fully expecting failure from them at every interaction. The song title is not “Lie to me because I want to be kept in the dark about the reality of our relationship”, but instead she knows it’s coming. It’s juxtaposed from the previous song on the record. In Stay she needed the lie so the night would never end. In Lie to Me she’s fed up with the person’s deception. She’s prepared, and doesn’t accept the behavior anymore. The first part of the chorus could really be a parenthetical addition to the song title (So I Can See You) Lie to Me.

This song is very different in structure. It has more of a traditional pop radio feel. There’s heavy sustain on the vocals that is a signature point of style on the entire EP. There are gritty loops, lots of electronic additions, and melancholy strings that make this song quite unique. I would guess this was the last song written for the EP, because Lie to Me feels like it was the proof of concept for songs that found their way on to the next album The Blessed Unrest. The drums in particular seem like a stepping stone to Brave. In Lie to Me the drums are the lead instrument. Not the piano. Not the bass, not even the loops.

I bet we all have a couple people in our lives that we’d love to breathe red when they start to fib. Watch out liars. Watch out Rollins Band, and Lance Armstrong. Look out Pinocchio. If Sara had her way you’d all be breathing red.

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Beautiful Girl

BeautifulGirl

This song is very hard to find. It’s not on any studio album, and while it’s tied to the EP Once Upon Another Time, it’s not on the EP. Beautiful Girl was only released as a 7″ vinyl only B-Side to Stay, the first single on the EP Once Upon Another Time, on Record Store Day in 2012.

Beautiful Girl is one of the many songs written by Sara that are autobiographical. She has mentioned in concerts that she wrote this song as an adult to her younger 13 year old self. It’s a beautiful song with lyrics that will resonate with any young teenage girl or boy that battles with peer pressure, bullies at school, boys or girls with raging hormones and one’s struggle to fit in amidst puberty and the constant barrage of what’s deemed pretty by model clad magazine covers and celebrities in Hollywood.

Beautiful Girl is also one of the many songs written by Sara that promotes finding strength within yourself and not allowing outside pressure to dictate how you should live your life. This is a song that every 13 year-old girl should listen too. I’ve never met Sara, nor do I ever expect to have the opportunity, but if I did I would thank her. I would thank her for her courage to share such a personal story for the benefit of others, and in this case for all the teenage girls that will listen to her song and be moved. My own daughter included.

One Sweet Love

A second time around this song is still anxiety filled.

One Sweet Love (OSL) is the first of six tracks included on Little Voice that are re-imagined songs from her debut album Careful Confessions.

The premise of the song has remained the same: Imagine a world where you realized your one chance at true love was in the past. Maybe you didn’t recognize it until they were gone.  Maybe you fucked it up. Did something stupid. Or worse yet, you did nothing about it and unwillingly allowed the one true love to just slip on by? Then with this knowledge you’d spent your next formidable years obsessively trying to recreate the circumstances for that mysterious or perhaps a new one true love to come around.

However, this version of One Sweet Love (OSLv2.0) is very different from it’s twin. The original OSL was void of Sara’s signature piano and featured a light guitar sound and expressive bass line. The Little Voice version has her piano featured prominently, the instrumentation is full and it feels right.  OSLv2.0 still starts with the lone guitar to pay its respects to OSL but that’s about it for the musical similarities. When the piano chords come in, the song builds to a full sound with many layers of instrumentation.  Listening to them one after the other I get the sense that Sara was rushed to get the Careful Confessions version out.  Maybe she just ran out of studio time, or money, or both. Whatever the case OSLv2.0 feels complete and the original, while nice, now seems thin and plays like a version that would be recorded in a acoustic session 7 years into the future. OSLv2.0 showcases how Sara has grown as an artist at this point in her career by expanding on her earlier work and improving upon it.

 

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Bottle It Up

It seems that at the tipping point of her success Sara does not agree with abandoning all that she built in order to get that final push to achieve her success.  Bottle It Up, sounds like a song pulled straight from the Tori Amos or Fiona Apple catalog (of which she is compared too), and I feel life the composition is intentional.  The lyrics are also laced with a heavy dose of passive aggressive content that’s aimed to poke fun at her label. I get the sense that Sara knows exactly who she is and makes no apologies for sticking to her principles. Her journey from backyard nobody to household name was a long road paved with hard work, hours of touring and many sleepless nights.

Just three songs into her sophomore effort, Bottle It Up is the second song on Little Voice with lyrics that detail how her label is trying to shape her into something she’s not comfortable with. Bottle It Up is about the tough music business and, more specifically, the struggles of being an artist with a recording contract.  The verses are structured from the perspective of the record label executive talking to her about what she needs to do to her sound, style and music in order to make it big.  She fights back in the chorus to say that she “Does it for love.”  That takes balls.

The irony here is that she wrote this before she had her record deal. I think it’s safe to say she’s wise beyond her years.

Sara states: “Before I had a record deal, I wrote that song about what it would be like to have a record deal, and the struggles of how do you become an artist who feels like they haven’t quote/unquote `sold out,’ and how do you stay true to your art and figure out how to make a living from it.”

There are two different versions of this song. The original album version starts immediately with Sara’s vocals whereas the single release (Which reached #15 on the US Billboard Adult Pop Songs) features a piano intro. I would guess it was by the request of the label, because a presell by a DJ would be tough to accomplish with a cold start and no musical lead-in.  Top 40 Radio DJ’s need to talk over something to ruin the first six or seven seconds of a song out of the mic break, right?

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Only Shadows

Sara’s an extraordinary lyricist. She doesn’t just write songs, she tells well-crafted miniature stories with profound lasting effect. Perfect example is the song Only Shadows.

Currently not on any studio album, the song was broadcast live on September 10, 2012 over the Stageit.com online concert in order to raise money for the organization called Playing For Change. On this broadcast Sara states that she was inspired to write this song while on a jog in Brooklyn, NY. After her run she sat down at the piano that was inside her apartment and began to write.

When I hear this song I get the sense it’s about someone who just can’t let go of a loved one who is about to move on from this world. Perhaps a parent, aunt or friend, child or spouse. In any case, I think Sara’s lyrics are pen to paper what most people are thinking when faced with the reality that they may only have hours, moments or breaths left with a loved one. In those last moments of their suffering or pain, she’s selfishly hoping for more time. She’s not ready to let go. Even though she knows it’s inevitable and certainly for the best.

Give me one more night then I’m ready
To let go, to know we are only shadows.

Babe, I’m so sorry to ask
I’m ashamed but tonight I just can’t give you up
I shackled myself to the past and my will has gone missing
Let’s call our shadow selves out for the evening
And watch them remember our love
Tomorrow will come and I know they’ll be leaving
That our time is up

Sara’s character understands this family member has suffered enough, but she’s not ready to say goodbye. She want’s more time before that loved one rises, and becomes “Only Shadows”, leaving her with the harsh reality that she must continue on without them. It’s a poetic and painful sentiment that all of us will have to identify with one day if we are fortunate enough to live a long a prosperous life.

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Vegas

Sin city is all about the chase. The money, bright lights, and easy fame. It’s the chase of the slot machine, the get rich quick card game, the successful double-down, and for the musician it’s the chase of easy success.

The premise is this: Just get me to Vegas, I’ll make it big, because that’s what people have told me. Sara crafts lyrics that are almost a warning to a younger self to be careful of what society has deemed important. The person Sara is talking to seems to have been a big fish in a small pond and is naive in chasing all the tempting cliche’s. Move to Vegas, or NYC and become a small fish in a big pond. Lose 10 pounds, and your identity too. Perhaps move to the Mexican border because someone told you that’s what’s necessary to gain success and be happy. But older Sara knows happiness is not something you chase. It’s a stable state of mind that comes from within. Success is just a result from years of sleepless nights, touring and hard work.

Vegas has a groove that is reminiscent of the first half of Careful Confessions. The instruments are tight and her vocals and composition of the entire song plays like an upscale lounge song by someone performing in Vegas. My favorite part is at the end when she growls out the vocals “Vegas please.” A rare break in her usually crystal clear voice that I find very refreshing.

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Love Song

Ah, the start of her sophomore effort. Love Song. Much has been documented about this song, and for good reason. It’s an upbeat tune that debuted as an iTunes free download in 2008 (which I did download… thank you very much) about the relationship between an artist and the artist’s main squeeze. All artists can relate to this simple premise:

I’m not gonna write you a love song
‘Cause you asked for it
‘Cause you need one, you see

I’m not gonna write you a love song
‘Cause you tell me it’s
Make or breaking this
If you’re on your way

All artists, Singer/Songwriters, Musicians, Photographers, Painters, Illustrators, Poets, Would Be Poets, and Hopeless Romantics have been there. Confronted by others with this passive aggressive comment… “How come you don’t (fill in the artist muse here) about me? Don’t I inspire you? Don’t you love me? You need to (fill in the artist muse here) about me!”

This is Sara’s You’re So Vain. But in the Carly Simon’s version she was most likely talking about Mick Jagger, and most people thought it, leaving the inside joke, well, not so inside. Sara’s Love Song is a bit more discrete. Her song, while masked as a love song to a boy, is really a job of defiance against her label, Epic Records. They didn’t like the direction her album was taking and they wanted her to write a pop love song for the album. They also tried to mould her appearance, and ultimately her career into something that Sara was uncomfortable with. Sara stayed true to herself and her reward was her first Grammy nominations for Song of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. Her first #1 hit on the Billboard Top 100. Her first #1 on iTunes, and the single is currently triple platinum.

Triple platinum.

Well played Sara. Well played.

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Once Upon Another Time

Once Upon Another Time is the title track of her 2012 EP. The EP was produced by her friend and fellow singer/songwriter Ben Folds and was recorded in his Nashville studio. Sara explained to American Songwriter Magazine why she named the record after this song: “The title track is really about loss of your childhood,” she said, “and letting go of your past, and that’s a part of my life right now, a journey I feel like I’m on. It felt befitting to name the album that.”

So that said, the song really needs no other explanation.
But what’s the fun in that?

When I hear this song, I see a grandmother with her grandkids on a covered porch.  For the sake of this post let’s name her Grandma Sara. It’s a warm summer afternoon, and there’s a porch swing, daisies in a vase and lemonade on the side-table. Grandma Sara was pulled by her grandkids to re-tell a story they heard dozens of times, but never gets old. The kids sit in a half circle around her as if it’s kindergarten story time and they squeal, “Tell us again Grandma, tell us again!” “Tell us the story of when you left home and got to be an adult!” Wide-eyed and attentive they sit. Ready to hang on her every word. And with that, Grandma strikes a match, lights a citronella candle to keep the bugs away and starts to sing…

Mmmmmmmmmm,
Once upon another time
Somebody’s hands who felt like mine
Turned the key and took a drive
Was free

“ooooh”, and “aaaaahs” emit from the half circle and now the grandkids are hooked again and begin to lean in. Smiles from ear to ear. The youngest takes a sip of lemonade and squints, because the drink is a bit too tart.

I recall the sun sank low
Buckley on the radio
Cigarette was burning slow
So breathe

“Woah, Grandma smoked? No way!” “What’s Buckley Grandma?” “Not what? but who, Grandma? Who’s Buckley?” “I don’t understand? Get to the part where you let the sun kiss you every day. I just love that part.” “Grandma Sara, you’re so cool!”

Sara has this unique ability to create new music that feels feel vintage and sophisticated. Sara’s sound has been described as everything from Norah Jones to Fiona Apple, and I’d even throw Ella Fitzgerald in the conversation. People like to make comparisons, because comparisons allow for an easy introduction for the unfamiliar. But while Sara is inspired my many, she is as individual as they come and has forged her own path with raw talent, hard work and years of determination. At the beginning of the song, Sara starts a capella and just shows off.  The vocals are sick. Lyrics are sick. In summation this song is sick. Flat out angelic. A bit too much sustain overall, but that’s a theme for the entire EP and not just this song.

The first section is retrospective of what she thought life was like during a time when she though she had it all figured out. She’s alone to experience life. No enemies yet, no porch light (read: address) or family to tie her down. She’s free in her solitude and her singular voice is the metaphor. In this moment she had it all, but Sara’s perspective in the story telling (Remember, Grandma Sara is telling this story to her grandkids) is of a wiser self who realizes this was a time of necessary naivety. It’s only until the strings, other voices and ambient sounds come into play where she transitions the story to a girl who starts to dream, and with that dream comes outside forces which would pull at her while she’s on her journey.

I saw myself in summer nights
And stars lit up like candle lights
I made my wish but mostly I
Believed

“Grandma Sara, after you tell us about how awesome it is to drive a car, can I have some more lemonade please?”

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My Love

The last song on Sara’s debut album is a live sweet and tender love song about a lover that she has yet to meet.  Much like the song Come Around Soon, but the difference here is that she has yet to meet, whereas in Come Around Soon she is perhaps waiting for love to strike twice. the lyrics in My Love feel like a poem scratched on the pages of a diary with little editing.  It’s structure is academic. Rigid.  4 lines per stanza, with rhymes and each end. The lyrics read like a stream of continuous thought.  If not for Sara’s vocals, the structure of the lyrics would be obvious.

Remember the Sara Bareilles Broadway musical I referenced
in Undertow?
,“ Between the Lines”, the new jukebox musical featuring the songs of Sara Bareilles!” Well if there was such a musical (And it would be epic)  My Love would be the first song sung in Act I after we are introduced to our main character. She’d sing My Love after she hangs up her rotary phone in her bedroom fresh off a conversation with Mary her slightly older friend. Mary has a boyfriend, and while on the call confides with the heroine that despite the trouble, love can be pretty amazing. (Little do we know that Mary and her love will break-up later in Act I causing tension)  After she hangs up the phone with Mary she imagines (campiness included) what a true love for her might be like.  She pens her thoughts in her diary, and then gets called to set the table for dinner by her father in the kitchen off stage. Fade to black. Applause ensues.

I always thought of the last song on an album to be akin to a season finale cliffhanger of that tv drama you just can’t quit.  It leaves you wanting more from that artist.  And Sara leaves her most poetic song on the album for the end. The next album can’t come fast enough.

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Red

If you own a business you know there is one goal you should to focus on.

Stay. Out. Of. The. Red.

If not, your business fails.  Retailers understand this goal. See there’s this silly day called Black Friday. It’s the day after Thanksgiving, and it’s called Black Friday because that’s the day where retailers, due in part to ridiculous price cuts and ravenous consumers, count on sales to move their ledger from the red to black.  Now, I am not saying that Red is a song centered around saving businesses and commerce.  Not at all. But Red is a song about saving. In this case Red is a song about Sara saving herself.

The color red is an alert. A warning. But red is also the color of perceived happiness. Who doesn’t like a red firetruck, or want a red balloon as a kid? A red bike, or sports car? Red Starburst, jelly bean or Red Ryder BB Gun? Red, while a color of warning is also one of comfort, warmth and accomplishment. Sara explores this balance of the color red in the lyrics. She has devoted herself to life on the road she has to be mindful of warnings that can place her sanity in the red while chasing success.  Things like the jerks, creeps and d-bags Sara talks references in City. Things like rejection and negativity that if dwelled on can bring her down. Or perhaps things like the separation from family and friends, lovers and companions that used to be there to lift her up when times became mentally bleak. At it’s core, Red is a message of strength and independence.

Sara’s perspective tells us that in her isolation she’s developed coping measures to pull herself out of the red.
So that she can enjoy the red things in life.

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