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Monday, 19 August 2013 10:39

Album review: Sara Bareilles finds her voice on 'The Blessed Unrest'

Album review: Sara Bareilles finds her voice on 'The Blessed Unrest'
Written by Kris Embry
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Sara Bareilles
"The Blessed Unrest"

It may be tempting to dismiss Sara Bareilles as just another piano-playing pop princess with a couple of polished hits, but to do so is to overlook a diverse and growing young artist.

A native of northern California, Bareilles released her first album in 2005, but it was her major label debut, 2007's "Little Voice," that put her on the map. That record contained the single "Love Song," a song which, along with the album, reached the top 10 charts. The success of that record allowed Bareilles to spread her musical wings, and she began to explore and create more expansive soundscapes, as she did on 2010's "Kaleidoscope Heart." She continues that exploration on her latest album, "The Blessed Unrest."

"The Blessed Unrest" takes its title from a quote by dancer and choreographer Martha Graham. Graham was a major figure in the world of dance, and left a lasting influence on that art form. Speaking about drive and the creative process, Graham once said, "There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others." As a dedicated and hard-working artist who tours frequently, Bareilles identifies with that experience of "divine satisfaction," and she obviously draws inspiration from Graham and other artists like her.

A vibrant live performer, Bareilles brings much humor and personality to her performances, whether solo or with a band. Like many other artists today, she has a presence in the realm of social media. Recently, however, she has also incorporated aspects of that media and the digital world into her own work.

While touring in advance of the release of the new record, and in support of the first single "Brave," Bareilles encouraged fans to fill out postcards at shows, completing the phrase "I am brave enough to _____." She then collected those postcards, sharing them with fans via Instagram and her own website. The result was a song, with its message of self-confidence and fearlessness, that became a sort of interactive piece of art, taking on a life of its own, beyond the recording and into the audience itself.

Although Bareilles claims no formal training, she is an accomplished musician with the musical chops and the voice to pull off most anything she attempts. Strong and clear, her voice is at the forefront of her songs, which are built around piano progressions and her soaring vocal melodies. Her songs are primarily upbeat, even when the lyrical material is not necessarily so, and on "The Blessed Unrest" they are undeniably catchy. Again, it might be tempting to criticize her for playing it safe, working in the same pop territory as she has successfully done on previous records, but then again it is not easy to write such catchy songs, songs that seem fresh and at the same time so instantly familiar.

For a girl who once claimed that she wasn't going to "write (someone) a love song," Bareilles writes about love frequently on the new album, and that is exactly when she is often most charming and engaging. On "Cassiopeia," with the collision of stars as a metaphor for love, she sings, "Come on come on collide, break me to pieces I, I think you're just like heaven." The jaunty "Little Black Dress" is an ode to getting over someone, and "Manhattan," one of the most poignant moments on the record, is sung as both a goodbye to a lover and a farewell to a city she loves. Another stand out track is "Eden." With its lush arrangements and swelling chorus she laments an Eden which turned out to be something less than paradise.

"The Blessed Unrest" is the work of a maturing artist who has found her voice. Bareilles now uses that voice, not only to entertain but, with songs like "Brave," to also encourage others to speak out for themselves and for positive change. As an artist who seeks to inspire others with her music and her songs, it seems quite likely that that "divine dissatisfaction" will keep Ms.Bareilles marching on for some time to come.

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