Monday, January 12, 2009

Singular Sara

I love folk music. It has such a noble and elemental history. It is so intimate.

I turned to folk as an adolescent. It's the perfect music for turning inward. Peter, Paul and Mary lit the spark for me. They were quickly followed by John Denver, Don McLean, and James Taylor. Pop singers all, I admit.

Like the best big band and jazz singers, the appeal of these singers is driven not only by their skill, but by the force of their personalities. It takes courage to be a performer of any kind, but to stand in front of people with only a guitar and your voice and entertain their minds and hearts--well, that's the most vulnerable of situations.

When I sit in a folk or jazz club, I love to witness how this challenge is met. If it's well met, I am transported. Sara Hickman is a singer who always takes Lisa and me on a journey.

When I think of Sara, I'm first drawn to her optimism. Her energy is simply electrifying, but it's never manic. Instead it is concentrated and emanates from her heart. Sara Hickman is deeply loving and empathetic. She has a razor wit, yet cynicism is never evident. This gal loves to laugh, too.

What a smile when she does! Her appearance is compelling: penetrating green eyes, a wide mouth, and prominent teeth. She's a striking blonde who hits the stage with a rock-and-roll spark. Sara moves about and establishes eye contact with her audience immediately, displaying complete command of her stagecraft. (She offers classes in this skill in Austin, TX, where she lives and plays much of the time.)

Sara Hickman unites the best of several worlds for me. Like folksingers in the Woody Guthrie tradition, she is a stalwart defender of the forgotten, the downtrodden, or the misunderstood. Like contemporary folksingers, she explores the map of her heart. Sara is also a fine singer with an obvious jazzy consciousness. The way she lilts and soars, and then sometimes simply bops and pops! Then there's her material. Sara is a savvy selector/interpreter of song, plus a fine songwriter in her own right.

How pleased I was to discover her singing Amy Rigby's "Are We Ever Going to Have Sex Again?" on her ambitious 2-CD project Motherlode. I am drawn to singers who pull material from different traditions. Rigby's composition has a country flavor, but Sara also dips into the jazz("Baby, It's Cold Outside"; "Wave"; "When I Fall in Love") and rock (Jagger/Richards'"Mother's Little Helper") catalogs.

In terms of her own songwriting, I'd especially recommend Two Kinds of Laughter, a 1998 release produced by Adrian Belew. This work kicks off with such brio. Witness the opening number and title track.

There's a wave
washing over me
there's a wave
breaking my heart free
and there's a light
that we call the sun...

A chugging bass line gets this aural train in gear, and the chorus features an onslaught of words and a catchy shifting of the rhythm.

funny, when you're drowning
how you just don't care
you hardly even notice when you're running outta air
floating with the sand and the seaweed in your hair

Striking imagery, eh? Anyway, this CD presents a world--wholly unsuitable for the tickle-my-ear, random-search iPod listening style of today, but if you're working and let Sara steep into your consciousness, you'll soon become a fan like me.

I admire Sara's business acumen. If you go to her website, you'll appreciate it. Making a living playing music is such a tough row to hoe, but she's maximizing every opportunity, and it's all executed in such a classy, professional manner.

I find myself going to her blog frequently. This past August Sara ventured north to appear at Passim, a premier Boston-area folk club. Lisa and I were there, of course, completely motivated by our memory of her last appearance at Passim on a snowswept evening. The timing wasn't quite right then in terms of turnout, and August isn't prime club-going time, either. Sara shared with us her anxiety about the gig early on–she'd blogged about it–and I appreciated her candor. She then proceeded to thoroughly entertain us with a show that bore little resemblance to her prior appearance.

Like many guys I'm not overly demonstrative, but after the performance I had to give Sara a big hug and declare to her that "I will always be there for you." (I believe Lisa was okay processing this scene!) I was so moved by how much she had just given us as a performer, and how difficult and sometimes discouraging her career is.

Folksingers rely upon the energy and enthusiasm of their followers. First, let Sara cast her spell on you. Then, like I've just done, spread the word, and get her booked in your area. I simply can't wait to see and hear her again, and I know you'll feel the same if you give her a chance.


Anonymous said...

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love your blog page. Its awesome!

Lauren said...

Hi Jeff,

Interesting page. Thanks for sharing.