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To Sweeten Up CD Cover
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 it started.

"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 song. 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

 
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