City

This is sara’s one true confession on the album.

This is it folks.

Right here.

Grab some popcorn. Snuggle up by the fire with your grandmother’s afghan and listen close.

Sara’s one true confession:

The road has come with sacrifice. Constant rejection is tough. Playing to semi-empty bars to guys that maybe she’d never consider talking too, or worse yet they’d never consider talking to her, has taken it’s toll. She spells out within the lyrics that while she loves what she does for a living she’s really not comfortable with the nightlife scene, but she had to do what had too to succeed.  “They only listen to me when I sing” gives me the visual of Sara holding up the wall at her high school dance—awkward and goofy she waits. This is what makes Sara so enduring. Despite all her success she knows where she came from. She’s honest, transparent and shares that her journey to become a household name wasn’t all “sunshine and lollipops”.

This live rendition of City paints a picture of life on the road and her journey to get to where she is as an artist.  There have been many great songs about the rigorous nature of performing in hole-in-wall locations or just basic life on the road. Such as, Billy Joel’s The Piano Man, Jackson Browne’s The Load In/Stay, Bob Seger’s Turn the Page or Faithfully by Journey. What makes these songs work is the honest perspective from which they are written.  Each gives an inside look into the day in the life of the singer/songwriter.  While we listen, we’re invited backstage, on the tour bus or as a guest at the secluded meet and greet. City is Sara’s contribution to this perspective, yet her’s has a twist: There has also been songs written about labels that take advantage of musicians by wielding the power of the big city lights over them.  That’s the underpinning of verse two.  Label’s can be jerks, pervs, and d-bags that take advantage of the naive.  Alanis Morissette’s Right Through You comes to mind as another song that takes this perspective.  From what I can tell Sara must really love playing this song at concerts, I have seen her a couple times in concert now and everytime this song comes up I feel like she gives a piece of herself away to those who are fortunate to hear her bear her soul so willingly.

City is Sara’s Piano Man. It’s her Right Through You, Her opportunity to reinvent Turn the Page. It’s her confession. And it’s mastery.

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Inside Out

Inside Out is the first of four live recordings that close out Sara’s debut album Careful Confessions. The first seven songs leading up to Inside Out have introduced a tortured soul. Someone who’s battling obsession, a failed love, a lost love, is at times vulnerable and exposed emotionally, or has major anxiety over what society expects. In the lyrics of Inside Out Sara conveys the message of strength in the self-realization of all these weaknesses. It’s within the culmination of this reality where she understands that she’s not perfect. She accepts her faults, and that she’ll never have the answers to everything that holds her down.

Some days are perfect, and some simply could not get worse.
Some days it’s all worth it, and some days this life is nothing but a curse.

She has two choices: Allow hardships she’s battling to suck her into a self-loathing abyss or she can fight off the negativity by loving inward, accepting her faults and growing. I love the juxtaposition of emotions at play in the lyrics. Insecurity vs conviction. Vulnerability vs. courage. A tired soul vs. inner clarity. Alone vs. mentally strong. She gains strength by allowing adversity to clock her on the chin, and after she cleans the blood from her lip, she recharges her spirit from within. Because at the end of the day she only needs to be accountable to herself. It’s her life. Her choices. Her destiny. She stands tall though she’s small. She breathes in a lung full of cool air and smiles, because she’s alive and tomorrow’s a new day.

I know what I’m not… and you can’t drive me away… it’s only rain.

And just like the rain, Sara knows the rain will eventually stop, revealing the clear blue skies and warm sun overhead.

Come Round Soon

Yet another song about a dysfunctional relationship.  Come Round Soon is the fifth out of the first seven songs on Careful Confessions that deals with this topic.  Sara has again painted the picture of an important person in her life that has stolen her heart, and she can’t forget him no matter what. She tries, but he’s the one thing she can’t live without. She tells herself “maybe he’ll come around soon.” 

I really like the way this song starts with the A Capella chorus in what seems to be six or seven channels of Sara’s voice.  The chords are thick and at times almost dragging down heavy.  The arrangement however is nice and a throwback to here vocal days while at UCLA. I wonder if Awaken A Capella ever performed this (or any vocal group for that matter) on a stage, campus grounds, or street corner?

What I find to be very distracting is the added element of the old-time record player sound effect that’s added during only verse one. I find the sound effects in the background to be an odd addition to the song. Come to think of it maybe is not a record player sound effect at all, but a flame under a bong? Perhaps the person coming around soon is really a drug dealer selling her pot? It’s an interesting perspective, but I’m guessing not the right interpretation.  The obvious choice would be a dysfunctional relationship.

When Sara plays this song live it’s usually with her strumming a guitar and taking Jazz liberties with her own melodies.  This is certainly the one song on the album that has the biggest transformation from the album version and what you’ll hear at a concert. Live she adds a “Not me.” to the end that showcases her amazing ability to belt out powerful vocals. The only thing missing here is a bluesy Javier Dunn guitar solo that he wails on for about 5-7 minutes to close out the live version of Come Around Soon. Maybe that will happen someday… ‘till I see her again I’m staying believing.

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Fairytale

Sara’s lyrics seem to have at least one great one-liner that sets the tone for the entire song. Fairytale’s signature line is “Go tell your white knight that he’s handsome in hindsight.” 

Ouch.

Fairytale breaks down the sexist view of what a woman wants.  It’s message is one of strength.  It’s Sara’s I Will Survive and her reinterpretation on the theme of the empowered woman who doesn’t need a man to define her. Girls don’t always need someone to come save them, because “sometimes princesses can save themselves.” Sara flips the Disney model on it’s head. What if Disney went rouge, DC Elseworlds style, or even more challenging, what if Disney has it all wrong from the start?

What if Rapunzel was in that tower because she liked her independence.
What if Snow White didn’t want to be a servant for seven messy dwarves?
What if Cinderella had a crush on the boy down the street instead of being force fed a proposed happy ending by the lure of royalty?

I like this simpler version of the song and it’s unintended metaphor.  It plays like a demo, or perhaps an in-progress thought since it’s only Sara and her piano. She doesn’t need anyone else to add any other instrumentation here. Just like her heroine in the song that snubs the fairytale, she is working it out just fine on her own. I’m sure that’s not Sara’s intent of the lone piano, but I like how it works out.  Thus, Fairytale is far removed from the start of Careful Confessions and the full sound of Love and the Rocks or Undertow, and it signifies the transition to the latter half of her debut indie album which includes four live tracks. This song does have an official music video which features Sara playing the roles of fairytale princesses within a community theatre quick change setting. The video is quirky and I find it to be quite charming. It was also one of the first introductions Sara gave to her fan base showcasing her humorous and self-deprecating personality.

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One Sweet Love

This song is anxiety filled.

And also the second song on the album to be void of piano. Which I don’t mind since it places all the focus on the vocals, bass and crisp rhythm guitar. The refrain is very easy to sing along too, so much in fact that Sara doubles up to sing harmony with herself.

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. Found out he or she was actually married, or they had to go away oversees, across the country.  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.

Yep, this song is anxiety filled.

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Responsible

Responsible is the fourth song on the album Careful Confessions and the first that’s void of Sara’s signature piano. I’m guessing this song is what garnishes critic comparisons to Fiona Apple and Tori Amos. The acoustic guitar, the harmonies, the pacing. It all makes sense.

There’s no title track on Careful Confessions.  However this song is the inspiration for the title with careful confessions so prominent in the chorus of the lyrics.  I always thought about the thought process an artist goes through to determine album names. Think about it: Some of the most iconic albums are identified by titles alone.  Dark Side of the Moon, Green, Abbey Road to name a few.  It’s like naming children.  You never know how many you’re going to have, so you better like the names you choose because you’ll be tied to them forever.  I would think that Guns ‘n Roses or Michael Jackson thought they’d have a few more albums in their repertoire, and come on GnR… The Spaghetti Incident?  Really? As far as Sara’s reasoning for using a lyric from inside a song as the album name is a question for her alone. My guess is that this album’s chalk full of her own carefully constructed confessions that define her journey.

Aside from the lack of piano, Responsible is also lyrically the first song that also changes in perspective. She is optimistic. I get the sense that instead of sharing her heartbreak as in previous songs, she’s trying to break down the walls that her love interest has built up for years. People can retreat inward when it comes to love. Some people just aren’t ready to allow someone inside their life and truly become vulnerable.

“I can’t blame you for the strength you lack.
Scared to give what you may not get back.”

In Sara’s case she tried to move quickly, got burned, but since she believes in the relationship she’s willing to stick it out. She’s now taking it slow but the frustration on her end is starting to build. She wants to be held responsible for tearing down those emotional walls, because she sees the potential. However, it’s a love song with a time limit. She may be optimistic, but she’s also realistic. She won’t wait forever.

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Love On The Rocks

Love on the Rocks may be my favorite song on Careful Confessions. This is the song on the album where she and her band mates show off just how talented they are. Guitarist, Javier Dunn gets co-songwriting credits and in fact, it’s the only song that’s not written by Sara exclusively. The piano, drums and bass line are so tight I find it very hard not to gesture along with a little air piano during those triplets. (yes, it’s happened… a lot). I could totally see Jack White wailing this riff on his Harmony Rocket Guitar during his White Stripes years. Maybe he’ll cover it. #thatwouldbeepic

It must be a blast for Sara to play this song on the piano. Then she adds her counter-melody vocals and it all works. Love on the Rocks is classic blues, yet toe-tapping. It’s lyrics are, cry your eyes out powerful, and yet your body is overtaken by a slow bobblehead kind of groove. I’m convinced the juxtaposition of the groove and lyrics is purposeful.

One again, Sara has written a narrative through the lyrics about a failed love. Three heartbreak songs into her debut album and it’s hard not to feel that behind her smile, bright eyes and wit, Sara has experienced more than her share of pain for her to draw inspiration. Maybe that’s what makes Sara so wonderful. Her songs are presented in a very personal manner. She wears her heart on her sleeve, makes no apologies, and through it all she’s grounded and lives a seemingly happy optimistic life despite the rejection and heartbreak. Or, she could have us all fooled with a very vivid imagination.

Whatever the case, it’s intoxicating.

Love on the Rocks is a song about two lovers that have an unhealthy relationship, yet they keep coming back for more. They get together, quarrel, break-up, and then like a true addiction they start all over again hoping for new results. I like the unintentional cell phone beeps at 2:17 from the keyboard player.  Those beeps always makes me think that Sara’s character is getting ready to re-engage while she clearly communicates the relationship’s dysfunction in the lyrics.  The song’s bridge ties the song up in a bow with lyrics that speak to drinking your sorrows away. If she starts with this verse we might be tricked in thinking the song is about a drinking problem. But make no mistake, Sara’s not trying to be overly clever or misleading here. She’s using drinking as a metaphor. Love on The Rocks is a song about a toxic relationship. And it’s heartbreakingly beautiful.

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Undertow

The bass line sets the tone for this song. Undertow starts with a walking bass line groove that’s so expressive, it’s as if it were a person at a party, telling all the fun stories and working the room.   The song continues to build instrument by instrument, but there’s no real melody here that one can sing along too. Each instrument seems to be doing its own thing, but musically it all works like one big basement blues jam session. Upon first listen this was not one of my favorite songs on the record. The use of cliche’s in the verses seemed out of place in the otherwise poetic cadence of Sara’s lyrics. However, the lyric in the chorus, “My heart breaks… in a… heartbeat” is particularly nice, and the song grew on me after a few more spins. Undertow’s magic is the sheer effortless of the entire song.  It plays like Sara and her band are performing the song live, and while I may not be able to sing along with Sara’s fluid vocals, I really don’t care because the energy Sara exhudes in the song makes up for it.

If Sara’s music ever gets worked into a Broadway musical, (I can see in lights now… “Now at the historic Booth theatre!, “Between the Lines”, a new jukebox musical featuring the songs of Sara Bareilles!”) Undertow would be sung by our heroine in the middle of Act I when she tries to gain the eye of someone she clearly can’t have, or he is, at least disinterested in her beyond the “let’s have a good time” phase. This song is tailored made to be sung as a duet.  Our heroine starts, sitting on a couch stage left.  Her friend, (let’s call her Mary) who is slightly older, but not by much, is getting a beer from the fridge.  Our heroine sings verse one and the chorus, while Mary comes in with verse two, trying to give stern advice.  The heroine cuts her off and finishes the verse and they both sing harmony and trade off verse three with playful banter as they fight for the tv remote. End scene.  Applause ensues.

The surprise of Undertow is at end of the song—the false ending.  Sara lets the song be silent for a couple beats before starting back again.  I’d say this new added section is the music effected by the undertow. The entire song leads up to this moment and the metaphor is clear: It’s separated from the rest.  It’s moving on. Whether we want it to or not.

Side note trivia: In 2004, she appeared as a singer in a bar in the indie film Girl Play. In the movie she performs the song “Undertow”.  Now, go impress your friends at the next company party.

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Gravity

“Something always brings me back to you.  It never takes too long.”

Beautiful sentiment to start any album that promises to be filled with love songs.  And who can deny the line’s visual power.  When we are in love, there is so much that reminds us of our better halves that it’s hard to not stop and get lost in a happy moments remembering their touch, smile or the way they hold your hand. There’s comfort in knowing they’ll always be there for you, They’ll always be your foundation.

Gravity is one of Sara’s most famous songs to date and one of her earliest.  Originally performed by her a Capella group Awaken A Cappella while she attended UCLA.  But don’t let the tender start and simple chords of the song fool you. This song is about heartbreak, loss and the inability to let go because of the gravitational pull of the former love.  The marching snare drum and alarm-like keyboards at the start serve as an alert and are our first audible clue of distress. Within the verses, Sara constructs a lyric that’s tortured, and conflicted. She knows that the relationship is unhealthy, and she also knows that the lost love understands that she’s vulnerable and takes advantage of the unfortunate situation by leading her on. The pleading in the chorus of “set me free, leave me be” reminds me of the television show Weeds where Andy Botwin begs Nancy to set him free, and she never gives him the words he needs to be released from her gravity.

Gravity even steps outside the confines of a love song.  We all have individuals in our lives that seem to demand more attention than deserved.  The family member that is overly sensitive, the abusive co-worker, or the narcissistic friend that won’t stop talking about their pet ferrets.

If there is any confusion in what she’s trying to convey, Sara solidifies the theme at the end the bridge with the powerful lyric. “But the one thing I know, is that your keeping me… down.” Gravity suddenly takes on a whole new meaning.  She ends the song by bookending the opening lyric alerting us again that we had it all wrong at the start, but now we are in the know, and we can share in her pain, that Gravity was not an song about the joy one feels while in the gravitational pull of a lover, but a song about one in-heartbreak who is trapped.

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