Growing Old With Rock and Roll

Growing Old With Rock and Roll

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Sarah Donner - Black Hole Heart (2017)

Black Hole Heart, the latest release from New Jersey based singer/songwriter Sarah Donner, carries on in the tradition she’s established since first emerging on the scene. Light-footed, immensely musical folk pop is married to exceptionally crafted and intelligent lyrical content that delves deep into the personal without ever risking obscurity. The album’s dozen songs make use of a relatively limited array of instruments, but this shouldn’t alarm potential listeners. There’s an immense amount of color and melody sparking these songs to life and they never fail to both engage listener’s intellects and move their emotions. Her first class writing talents come through on each of the album’s songs and it’s quickly apparent she’s chosen an excellent supporting cast to help these tunes come to life.

“Phoenix” opens the album quite nicely. Its ambling acoustic grace has a lot of audible confidence as well. There’s ample delicacy in the arrangement, particularly how the vocals and guitar work weave around each other, but the steady acoustic strum has some strength as well in its inexorable march towards song’s end. The delicacy is even more pronounced on the album’s title track, but it also gains much from the well-conceived lyric poetry that fills the track. Donner exploits the full potential of the black hole metaphor and dramatizes it well with an evocative singing performance. “Florida” is an equally poignant acoustic based track with a direct and lilting memory guaranteed to get under listener’s skin from the first. Donner has a genuine knack for emotional narratives – not linear, A-Z storytelling, but a skill for getting inside the emotional truth of each song with a surprisingly minimal amount of effort. The same fine writing defining much of the release continues to hold sway on the song “Athena” and her sprightly vocal phrasing imbues the lyric with a lot of dramatic life. The mandolin in the song is a particularly effective musical touch and unwinds with just the right amount of artfulness.

There’s some unexpectedly entertaining self-deprecating humor in the song “The Longest Road”, an otherwise heavily reflective track about life’s journey and the mistaken turns we can make moving through the years. She changes musical gears slightly with the song “All the Things”, but the same honest wisdom and keen eye for significant details distinguishes this performance. The musical qualities manifest themselves a little different with a clipped, straight ahead acoustic guitar figure that gives her vocal an added urgency. Melody is the dominant musical force on the song “Sinking Ship” and it helps frame another fine Donner vocal in the best possible way – the interplay between these two elements is on point and easily elicits an emotional response from the listener. There’s a echo-laden, elegiac tone to the album’s conclusion “Sol 549” that brings Black Hole Heart to a finish like a leaf slowly wafting towards the ground. The distance surrounding Donner’s voice is quite evocative, but never so far removed from the mix that the instrumental tracks gain sonic superiority. Black Hole Heart has a well honed sense for the musical and a wide emotional breadth that encompasses many facets of human experience. Sarah Donner has greater achievements ahead of her, but there’s little question that Black Hole Heart ranks high among her most significant musical projects.

Grade: A

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