Image © S. Glynn 2004
(16 June 2005) After listening to any number of major label, clone-like, female
singer-songwriter releases lately, Sarah Glynn's independently produced To
Sweeten Up (S. Glynn (USA), 2004) comes as a breath of immensely welcome fresh air. And
'independent' is the right word--not only has she written, produced, recorded
and mixed the album herself, but she plays every instrument on every track (bar
passing the drumsticks to Julio Figueroa for three cuts).
Currently resident in Austin, Texas, by way of Richmond, Indiana and Boston,
MA, Sarah was classically trained on both piano and violin, though she later
took up guitar, and says her heart has always been in popular music. She
graduated from Wellesley College and was on the point of going to Med School
when she made the sort of decision that is the stuff of parents' worst
nightmares. She decided to concentrate on her music. To Sweeten Up is
her second album following Lucy And The Luck Band released in 2000.
The opening track, "Don't Say No" grabs the attention immediately with a
dramatic electric guitar figure. It's a very powerful piece which goes through
a number of phases in its four minutes - a miniature epic in fact. It's
breathless in feel, an impression created by combining complex melodic lines to
form the harmony behind the sung melody rather than using the usual block chord
approach. This is one of the trademarks of the album and you can hear it on
other songs such as "You Always You Never" which also features an acoustic
guitar track that appears to have arrived unblemished from "Dogs" on Pink
Floyd's 1977 album, Animals.
"One Day Older" has a guitar break reminiscent of The Cure's Wish period.
In fact the more I listen to this album, the more I'm convinced that Sarah must
listen to a LOT of British music.
"Should I, Could I" is the commercial highlight of the collection with
Sarah's distinctive vocal phrasing, a killer chorus and some lovely stabs in
the background of the instrumental passage.
The album's title track is the first chance to catch breath, it's in three-time
and opens with a gentle melodic verse, though it soon picks up steam, going
through a musical metamorphosis which sees it ending up a long way from where
"Money Retail Millionaires" is a Catatonia-like piece that goes on a
roller-coaster of rhythmic changes and has some of the strongest lyrics on the
album, "What we wants not in the stores / Yet we still shop and we still find."
"Full Badge Bar" motors along nicely and "Young Emergency" uses some imaginative
vocal harmony. Although the album is melodically strong, one of the oddities is
that on a number of songs, "Young Emergency," is an example along with "My Best
Friend" and "Riddle To Stay," the choruses are less memorable than the music
and verses that surround them. The hooks in these pieces are elsewhere in the
The album rounds out with another three-time song "Us Girls," and the unexpected
instrumental "Cromwell" which hints at even more interesting things to come
next time around.
Elsewhere, Sarah's voice has been likened to The Sunday's Harriet Wheeler--a
terrific compliment indeed--and certainly there's a British feel to a lot of
the music on this album, as well as to her distinctive and individual vocals.
There are moments where her singing strongly recalls Louise Wener and Cerys
Matthews for example - and although there are also echoes of Kristen Hersh,
Juliana Hatfield and Tanya Donelly, Sarah has one of the least obvious American
singing voices I've heard from an American in a long time - it's certainly part
of what singles her out from the crowd.
This is as original and unconventional female singer-songwriter album as I've
come across recently. The songs have a fresh feel and take the listener through
such a fascinating labyrinth of rhythmic changes that you find yourself smiling
at the sheer audacity and exuberance of it all. And let's face it, there aren't
many CDs around these days that put a grin on your face.
You can't take your
ears off this album for a moment, and no reason why you'd want to.--Jamie Field in Hereford, England