I have been vaguely familiar with Sarah Slean for a number of years, primarily, and initially, due to an unreleased cover that Sarah Harmer did of her song My Invitation, but inexplicably I have never really taken the time to delve more fully into her discography. For some reason, this week I decided to do so...and only then did I realise that she released her most recent album, The Baroness, in just March this year. Having only just familiarised myself with two of her previous albums (Night Bugs and Day One), thanks to the immediacy that this digital age affords, I thought it only fair that I get to know The Baroness herself as well.
First off, I am mesmerised by her voice...in general, and not just this recent release. I have been listening to four of her five albums on repeat for two days now! The voice is clear, direct, beautiful...think perhaps of other classically-trained musicians such as Sarah McLachlan. Listening to Slean reminds me of my love, in my younger days, of artists such as Tori Amos and Fiona Apple. This is heartfelt, lyrically candid music, yet on first appraisal there would seem to be something more adult, more objective, less needy about Slean's songs. I truly am impressed.
Coming at this as something of a novice, my conjecture is that existing fans of Sarah Slean may be a little disappointed by The Baroness, her first studio album since 2004. Featuring a good share of acoustic guitar alongside her signature piano, any excess drama or instrumentation has been stripped away, the almost-cabaret of some of her previous work stepping aside to make room for the words. And it really is good. Just not as good as Night Bugs or, in particular, Day One. There has been a mellowing, a maturation, a change of direction. The songs are honest, Slean wearing her heart on her sleeve (to some extent...don't worry, it's not a bleeding heart, as per many young, female singer-songwriters), it just that they are a little more forgettable. Here the ballad is king, and that has me, even as a rookie Slean appreciator, wishing she had kept a few more of the bells and whistles...and balls.
Many an interview with Slean features her talking about a need for artistic clarity, a need to get away from it all and regroup. In her own words:
"Going into that foreign world, you see better. It's like popping your eyes out and giving them a rinse. That's what I needed to make music."
Prior to Day One, this meant a stay at a remote cabin in Ottawa. The 'change of pace' for The Baroness was courtesy of a seven month spell in Paris. Ms Slean is, in addition to being a recording artist, a painter, a published poet, an actress, and even a student (who is almost finished her Music and Philosophy degree at the University of Toronto), and describes something of an ongoing fascination with all things French...the lifestyle, the romanticism, the artistic inspiration that seems to flow there.
'The Baroness' is the sobriquet Slean uses for an alter-ego she describes as a "brassy ballgown-wearing technicolour dame". It is also the title of her most recent volume of poetry (you can see some of that at her website). A woman of many talents!
Listen to: Get Home, Euphoria, Notes From the Underground, Sound of Water-Change Your Mind, Willow and Shadowland.
From The Baroness:
And, as promised, Sarah Harmer's unreleased cover of Slean's song My Invitation:
mp3: My Invitation - Sarah Harmer