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Sarah Slean


Country of origin:

Canada

Type of music generally:

Evocative/eclectic pop

Status:

Most recent release, Metaphysics (2017)

See also:

Sarah Slean's site

Wikipedia's entry on Sarah Slean

An Unofficial Sarah Slean News Blog

Comparisons:

Tori Amos, Joni Mitchell, Sarah McLachlan

Covers/own material:

Own and some covers

General comments:

Sarah's a singer/songwriter/pianist very much in the Tori Amos vein. Very promising, definitely someone I will be watching. Already there are a couple of songs that totally blow me away. (kamesan@geocities.com)

New artist of the year: Sarah Slean. I've been listening to her a lot and all I can say is if she doesn't become famous there is simply no justice in this world. Sarah Slean is wonderful, of all the new artists I heard last year she was my favourite, and turned out to be the one with most staying power. (afries@zip.com.au)

I describe her as Tori Amos with all the emotion and power but none of the over-the-top-ness (I love that too-muchness in Tori, but I think I'd find it irritating in someone else). The Tori similarities are there both in her voice & how she uses it and in the style of the songs, particularly the piano work and also the "once I took the universe to dinner" sensibility. She's got that excellent piano, great voice, fascinating songs thing going, too.
     The best news is that she's just as musically inventive and so to me she doesn't sound like a clone at all—she's doing her own thing and it happens to veer in the same directions and come from some of the same places (a classically trained piano style with a love of classic rock music). Her style seems pretty mature and individual, but she is "like Tori" more than almost anyone I can think of.
     I really hope that the style exhibited on her big-label debut, the Sarah Slean ep isn't an indication of her current direction, though I fear of course that it is. The cabaret-style vocalizations and musical style she's using there just isn't to my taste at all. I love her work on the Universe ep and like Blue Parade but don't find it all that compelling; I find the Sarah Slean ep actively off-putting. (Neile)

Sarah is the best! Some of her live stuff is amazing and she's a great songwriter. (Songbird22@aol.com)

She's always compared to Tori Amos, but I prefer Sarah's music—she doesn't seem quite as repetitive and she seems to have slightly more depth to her voice. (Riphug@aol.com)

Sarah is no pale imitation of Tori Amos; she's a rather stunning singer/songwriter in her own right, who just happens to play a mean piano, have a soaring voice, and write poetic, but rather vague, lyrics. Highly recommended. (jjhanson@att.net)

Sarah Slean, yes, is a truly wonderful pianist. She and Fiona Apple are similar in that their piano work is very very layered and rich and complicated. (John.Drummond)

i saw her when she popped by boston at the end of last year and was quite taken with her performance. I really like the Universe ep like most people here and am still letting Blue Parade grow on me. She's piano-based, introspective music, and often has cellist Kevin Fox accompanying her. (1/00, paul2k@aol.com)

Er...erm, well, what *does* she sound like? Piano-wise, Tori Amos. But vocally? I dunno.... She's a rather young singer-songwriter pianist from Toronto. With her first release, the indie Universe ep (actually, it's a lot closer to a short album), she utterly stunned an awful lot of ectophiles. The follow-up, Blue Parade didn't garner quite the same enthusiasm around here, I think because it wasn't quite fierce enough. It's a gorgeous album, and has some incredible stuff on it, but there's just something about it that's not quite spectacular. That's not to say it hasn't seen plenty of praise around ecto, or shown up on top-10 lists for '99. (burka@jeffrey.net)

Comments about live performance:

Sarah Slean has become my favorite new artist. She is a wonderful songwriter and pianist who is currently supplementing her music studies at the University of Toronto with some occasional live performances around town that are pure entertainment. Her onstage banter between songs is somewhat unpolished, but she is completely at home with a crowd and seems to talk about whatever comes to mind at the moment, often going off on tangents and then recovering with funny comments. She delivers this with bubbly, giddy, innocent exuberance, then the next thing you know she launches into a song with a performance outshining many veteran players. The comparisons to Tori Amos are about as close as one can get to describing her. Watching her play, one knows that Sarah Slean has a very bright future, and these are going to be shows to remember. Definitely worth the 4-hour drive in itself. (1997, carnivore@bigfoot.com)

Live, she continues to impress. Her shows tend to be characterized by a lot of storytelling and a remarkable amount of self-disclosure. Sarah has gotten to the point where she has so many terrific songs that it is impossible for her to play all of them at any given show, and consequently I'm bound to be let down that she didn't play at least a couple of songs that I love. (1997)
     I don't often see her do solo shows anymore, most of her shows in Toronto these days are big productions with a band and a string section, but she very ably proved that she can still perform a mesmerizing set by herself. She opened her set with a great new song she'd finished writing backstage 20 minutes before, which is a pretty gutsy way to open a set. I had some friends drive up from New York for the show and I frequently glanced over to see the wonder and amazement shining in their eyes...I love watching people see Sarah play for the first time. The only songs she played from Universe were "Me and Jerome" and "John the 23rd". At the end, she singled me out to ask me whether she should play "Universe" or "Ogoni Star" and I chose the latter, one of my favourites and one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard. I was afraid that people might start talking during her set because no one past the first few rows could see Sarah at all, since everyone was standing and she was sitting on a stool. I needn't have worried, I could barely hear a peep her entire set from the well-beyond-capacity crowd. (1998, kamesan@geocities.com)

She's very talented at the keyboard, and live she talks to the audience a lot, and jokes and tells stories. She is very good in front of the mic, but I think she seems a bit nervous in front of a crowd, but she handles it very well. She reminds me of a cross between Tori Amos and Sarah McLachlan. She has a cello player with her in addition to violin. The string instruments do it for me every time, and I was hooked—but even if she was up there by herself, she would've been just as good. She has a beautiful voice...that is what reminded me of Sarah McLachlan. (sherm@tardis.roc.servtech.com)

all I can say is OH MY GOD...I haven't had a wide goofy grin on my face like that since the first time I saw Veda Hille play. Finally, Sarah and the band appeared and launched into "Habit", one of the best songs on Blue Parade, and we were off and running. I can't recall the set list in the exact order, but I do know that she played "Blue Parade", "Jerome", "Eliot", "Last Year's War", "Twin Moon", a "candy-ass pop song" I don't know the name of that was highly amusing, some song about a circus, and a few others I know I'm forgetting. Oh yeah, the highlight of the set for me was "High", which is my favorite song on Blue Parade. Halfway through it my friend, who had never heard a note of Sarah's music before and was just there because I told her to meet me there (and ended up enjoying herself immensely) turned to me and said "this is her hit". :) "Twin Moon" was positively transcendent live, too. In between songs Sarah was adorably goofy. She's definitely young, but wow, what a career she has ahead of her. Don't miss a chance to see her play live. She's wonderful—and a very, very sweet person to boot. (11/99)
     woj and I headed up to Boston on a school night to see Sarah play, because it had been a really long time since she came south of the border. I wish I could say it was worth getting home at 3 am when I had to be at work at 9...but it wasn't. :/ I really, *really*, REALLY don't like the direction Sarah is going with her singing. The music is fine—a little Cabaret styling never hurt anyone, and she's got a good, tight band. But she's singing like a washed-up drunken Berliner chanteuse now, and in someone with such a gorgeous voice, that's just a crime. She's going to destroy her voice if she keeps this up. She has also completely rearranged my all-time favorite song of hers, "Weight". I never thought a live song could be overproduced, but this one was. How do you tell someone you really admire that you think she's making a huge mistake with where she's going with her art? I don't think there's any smooth way to do that, so I just kept my trap shut and told her (sincerely) that it was really good to see her again, and that was that. (02/02)
     After this show, I am tremendously disappointed to report that I am officially done with Sarah Slean. :/ This kills me...but I just really, really don't like what she's doing now. Life's too short to waste time getting depressed by a live performance of songs that I used to love by someone who was set to get a permanent spot in my all-time pantheon, until she woke up one morning and decided she wanted to play the role of a drunken cabaret singer. The one song in her set that didn't make me cringe and long for a wayback machine was "Blue Parade", which she actually sang straight. Sadly, I think the audience was more in agreement with me than not—Sarah got the most lukewarm reception of the evening (and I know there were several fans of hers in attendance). (9/02, meth@smoe.org)

She launched into her set straight from setting up, not giving us any warning that she was about to begin, and it was amazing how the whole crowd (and the small venue was packed) went silent. She was very wonderful, and was as charming and funny between songs as always. My only complaint with her set was that sometimes Kurt's noodling got a little distracting...I much preferred the cello player she had with her on her last swing through the US.
     Anyway, I damned glad I went (as so was the friend I brought with me, who'd I just gotten into Sarah's music recently) and I'm looking forward to Sarah's next trip down from Canada. (1/00, mcurry@io.com)

I was surprised at how mesmerized I was by her performance. I haven't picked up Night Bugs because of the songs I heard on KCRW and the descriptions various ectophiles here posted on her foray into a more cabaret style. I was steeled for that at her show, and will admit that I'm not usually a fan of the style. But Sarah really snagged me. Her voice was strong and pure...I hadn't seen her since some of her Boston shows 3 years ago, and I was struck by how it sounds like she's really found her voice. That voice might be different than what a lot of us were hoping for with her first couple of releases, and on paper, I'd say "not my cup of tea", but in person, it agreed with me. (1/04)
     I caught her at the Hotel Cafe tonight. As usual, she enraptured me. (7/04, paul2k@aol.com)

saw sarah slean at the knitting factory (new york) last night. this is what she played during her just-under-a-hour-long set: "elliot", ", "duncan", "the score", "book smart, street stupid", "california", "sweet ones", "me and jerome", "weight", "as-of-yet untitled song which i would call "my children's dreams" (solo), and for an encore: "me i'm a thief" (solo).
     i'd heard "the score" before but this one seemed totally reworked compared to my memory of it — a lot louder and vociferous. it was a lot more evil too.
     "california" was dramatic and intense. she did the whole stand-up-and-sing thing, swaying back and forth during the instrumental parts.
     "my children's dreams" is a quiet, slow reflective piece about her hometown and her parents. she joked that she can't play it near toronto for fear of word getting back to them—of course, with this here internet thang, they'll know about it by tonight, i'm sure. ;) it's in the vein of "twin moon" and other songs like that. very lovely but sad too.
     "me i'm a thief" was great—i like the the album version very much but the solo treatment is stunning too. it's not that different—just lacking that pulsing bass and the guitar work—but, at the same time, it's like a whole new song. also very "twin moon"-ish now that i think about it.
     as don might say, "a very satisfying show". ;) (5/03, woj@smoe.org)

last night i saw the lovely sarah slean open for ron sexmith...she was awesome. she played "elliott" and won over the audience...best song was "sweet ones" that she did with ron's band. (9/04, stjarnell@yahoo.com)

It's problematic seeing an artist for the first time when they've got a back catalog you love, but you're not into their current album. Universe, Blue Parade, Night Bugs, Day One, Orphan Music like, love, adore them. The Baroness am rather bored by it so far (fingers crossed, am continuing to listen). The songs and lyrics are too plain; lots of slow boring ballads; the genres it touches on are gospel, cabaret etc. I want more pop, rock, hell I'll take opera.
     The new song I liked the most at the concert was 'Parasol' which isn't on the album this mad lively song was only available to pre-sale buyers who were willing to pay as much for postage as the album. 'Parasol' tumbles along at great speed, spilling melody over the side, silly rhymes piling on top of one another. "And I coughed this up in a sooty perfume, Out of my mouth like a feather plume, And now here's one more crazy tune", stench, bench, wrench; lane, Spain, explain. Eliza Doolittle would choke. A song I would happily legally download IF it were available. Such are the reasons I hate record companies.
     Somehow she picked all my least favorites from The Baroness to play the most boring of boring. No poppy catchy 'Change your mind' or 'So many miles', ghostly 'Shadowland', dramatic 'Hopeful hearts'. She played 'California', 'Pilgrim', 'Duncan', 'Blue parade', 'Universe' (a request), and those were all lovely. Great band (upright bass, drums, guitar). Sarah stood and danced for 'Lucky me,' and the cameras came out. Her theatrical mannerisms can distract from the music even though the persona goes with the music, it is awkwardly realized and can be uncomfortable to watch for some.
     Still, enough lovely moments, and I don't like the previous albums any the less. (3/12/08, k_hester_k@yahoo.co.nz)

Recommended first album:

Universe

Recordings:


Universe

Release info:

1998—self-released—SSCD1998 (cd); 1997 (cassette)

Availability:

From Canadian stores that carry indie releases and directly from the artist. See www.sarahslean.com for ordering details.

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Sarah Slean—piano, vocals

Guest artists:

Sharon Tiessen—cello
Christine Paul—violin
Mark Mariash—drums, percussion
Michael Cooper—basses, keyboard bass
Chris Emmick—electric guitar noises

Produced by:

Sarah Slean

Comments:

Note: the cd reissue of the original cassette has 2 extra "hidden" tracks in addition to the 6 on the tape: one more by Sarah Slean and a cover of a Radiohead song.

Universe should be required listening for any fan of Tori Amos or Sarah McLachlan in my opinion. (carnivore@bigfoot.com)

It is fantastic. A must-check-out, especially for fans of Tori Amos. Her songs "Universe" and "Me and Jerome" are just incredible. What can I say, Sarah rocks my world. It was great to get a studio recording of "John the 23rd". (kamesan@geocities.com)

I'd like to introduce a new award, "for the song I hummed most often". This year this coveted award goes to Sarah Slean's "Universe". My recommendation is Buy, Buy, Buy!
     My Favourite Record Award of 1999 will be a bit of a stretch since the record in question actually came out the previous year and is not really full-length either. All the same, with re-release in CD format and the inclusion of stunning bonus tracks I think it can qualify. Now the drum roll please...and the winner is Sarah Slean, Universe! (afries@zip.com.au)

She is quite amazing. At one point I thought "this is what Tori Amos could have been if she didn't go the route of Boys for Pele", but then thought that was an unfair comment about Sarah. She is truly amazing. All the songs are great. I had the tape already, but decided to spring for the CD. I'm glad I did. The two extra songs make it worth the money. Of all the new CDs acquired lately, Sarah's is *THE BEST*, and unfortunately the shortest as well. The tape was on my top 10 for 1997 and although the CD is the same—plus two—she's on the rise, and is such a great songwriter it deserved a spot for 1998 as well. (Matt.Bittner)

The songs on this ep are individual and strong. Boy did they stick in my head and prove themselves playable over and over and over again. She's got a lovely voice and a good sense of song structure and she's only going to grow from here. I really enjoy this ep and look forward to hearing more from her! All 5 of the original songs are distinctive. Her version of Fauré's "Pie Jesu" is quite lovely. I'm a little less thrilled with the 2 extra songs—mostly because they're both downbeat and I'm not sure if she sounds sultry or mournful on them. They're lovely but not as catchy as "weight" or "angel" or "me & jerome" or "universe". (Neile)

I really really really liked it. Great stuff. Yeah, it's an EP, so what? Sarah Slean exhibits all the markings of a great artist. I'm looking forward to following her career as it develops. Perhaps the endless comparisons to Sarah McLachlan and Tori Amos are unfair, but they're aptly descriptive. I just hope she takes her career more in Tori's direction than that of her namesake.... Five seconds into "Weight", I knew Sarah Slean was going to be a keeper. I usually listen to this a minimum of 3 times in succession. (meth@smoe.org)

This is like finding a whole set of Tori Amos Little Earthquakes-era B-Sides. However, they are not a pale imitation but as good in their own right. (jjhanson@att.net)

It *rocks*. Sarah is amazing. Universe is one of the coolest EPs that I've heard all year. (Songbird22@aol.com)

I loved the cassette, but it's TOO SHORT!!! The bonus tracks on the cd are nice. Compared to Emm Gryner as many seem to do, Sarah's music seems to grab on the first listen. (JavaHo@aol.com)

This is fabulous. (ectophil@netlink.co.nz)

My top album of 1998. Oh, and for the record, I did like Universe better than Blue Parade, but I think that's just because Blue Parade had room for a few weaker tracks that might not have been included in an EP. (mcurry@io.com)

I have pretty much fallen in love with it. Universe is fantastic. I love the crunchy piano style, the use of strings, the wry lyrics. Neat voice, great songwriting. And ya gotta love someone who could write a road story about cruising with J.D. Salinger, and have it make sense. One of my top albums of 1998. Sarah I find to be a stunning up-and-comer, and someone who I'm anxious to see grow throughout their career. (burka@jeffrey.net)

What everyone else said. One of the best debuts of the year, and a striking example of girl-with-piano done right. (Greg.Jumper@Eng.Sun.COM)


blue parade

Release info:

1999—self-released—SSCD 002

Availability:

From Canadian stores that carry indie releases and directly from the artist. See www.sarahslean.com for ordering details.

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Sarah Slean—vocals, piano, wurlitzer, toy piano, rhodes, string arrangement

Guest artists:

Mark Hariash—drums, djembe, maracas, crazy moog, glockenspiel, finger cymbals
Drew Birston—bass
Maury Lafoy—bass
Kurt Swinghammer—guitars, electric sitar, moog bass, feedback, e-bow, lap steel, lovetone
Kevin Fox—cello
Todd Lumley—Hammond B#, accordion
Erin Donovan—vibraphone
Peter Seminivs—violin
Tino Popovic—violin
Judith McIntyre—cello
Karen Houston—cello
William Sperandei—trumpet, flugelhorn
William Carn—trombone
Danny Paradise and the Paradise Lost Brass—trumpet, French horn, trombone

Produced by:

Mark Mariash and Sarah Slean

Comments:

First I should point out that because I'm Sarah's webmaster now, I'm not exactly an impartial observer...—BUT—I'm sure this album would be a strong contender for album of the year for me, web guy or no web guy.
     When a songwriter as prolific as Sarah waits for 2 years to put out an album, there are inevitably disappointing omissions. Some of her older songs that probably would have appeared on the album had it been released earlier are missed. In fact, "Playing Cards With Judas" is probably the only song from the Universe cassette release-era days to survive to this songlist. But with this album, after a few listens, it was hard to find songs to bump in favour of the ones I wanted.
     There's probably a good reason for that.... Sarah has developed so much as both a songwriter and a performer since the Universe days, it's a little scary....
     There's a good mix of songs, from gorgeous ballads like "Twin Moon" and "Blue Parade" to more up tempo songs like "Playing Cards with Judas" and "High". "Awake Soon" is an a cappella choral piece in the tradition of "Pie Jesu". There's the Cohen-esque "Eliot", and explorations of different sounds, effects and instrumentation in "My Invitation" (piano and horns), "Habit" (electric guitars), "Eliot" (accordion, horns, glock), and "Narcolepsy Weed" (funky keyboard setting).
     Unlike most CDs, my favourite tracks are near the end. "Eliot" has an old-time, Leonard Cohen feel that I just can't get enough of. I can also hear a touch of Rufus Wainwright in this one (she's a big fan of Rufus). "Blue Parade" is the very next song and this is one of the most emotionally moving and achingly beautiful songs I've ever heard. The first time I heard the recorded version this song was causing all sorts of visceral reactions, the tears, the shivers, the hairs on end, the goosebumps. It was all I could do from crying out for someone to pause the CD player after the song ended to give me some time to decompress after the song.
     Not everyone will find this album better than Universe, but I found that Sarah had learned more about arranging strings, and adding more strings added some more substance and oomph to the string parts. *I* liked it more, anyways....
     And all the songs keep getting better and better with each listen. This is an unbelievable, truly beautiful album; the title track still gives me the shivers. (kamesan@geocities.com)

This album is pure brilliance. Absolutely incredible! The string/horn additions are amazing. From the first seconds of "Playing Cards with Judas" (what an AWESOME intro to a song), to the haunting title track, this CD is amazing—please check her out if you haven't already. :) (Songbird22@aol.com)

This album didn't really grow on me—more like pounced. If the song selection were a bit stronger (i.e. if there weren't so many slow ballads that sound exactly alike all strung together), this would have been in my top three of the year. Still, though, it's got some great songs on it ("High", "Habit", "Playing Cards With Judas", "Twin Moon"), and Sarah's voice is stunningly beautiful. (meth@smoe.org)

I've also been listening to this more often lately and appreciating it more and more as I do. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Some really brilliant stuff mixed in with some...umm...less brilliant stuff. (mcurry@io.com)

I like this, but I must say that I'm a little surprised at how conventional it sounds compared to universe. The album really focuses on her softer, more balladic side—the punch these songs have is in her piano technique and soulful vocals. I also have a couple of quibbles about the strings being just a little too sweet for my taste. I still think this is a lovely album, but the songs are (generally) a little more soulful/slow/pretty than I usually like. Mostly she pulls them off for me by her clarity, her lyrics, and by knowing how not to overdo it. In other words, she pulls me in pretty well but I don't love this the way I did the universe ep. It's not as instantly engaging and is more subtle. It's an unusual album in that it seems to get stronger later in the disc—the later tracks are quite brilliant, and I especially like the last postscript track. I wish she didn't make us wait so long for it!
     She seems to be more and more clearly different from Tori with this release—more into her own sound and thought processes, which I think it ultimately rewarding for me as a listener. (Neile)

I love Sarah Slean, and to say that this is the biggest disappointment of a group new releases I picked up at the same time does her and the album a disservice. While a very solid album, none of the songs really stand up and grab you. Pretty, lyrically interesting, haunting vocals, but all kind of just blend into another. Also, her piano playing seems much tamer/less flashy than on her first release, and personally this album could use a little more flash. This album took a while to grow on me, and still seems a bit of a disappointment, but there is some beautiful stuff on here, and Sarah sure shows promise. I hope we'll be hearing from her for a long time. I think we will. (jjhanson@att.net)

This was in my top ten of the year, also wins for the song I hummed most often: for the second year running this prestigious award goes to Sarah Slean. Either for "Blue Parade", or "Madeleine"—both have been on high rotation in my shower throughout this year :). (afries@zip.com.au)

think I still like universe better, but Blue Parade is fabu. (burka@jeffrey.net)

Blue Parade has been a disappointment for me. Somehow it doesn't grab me at all like Universe did right from the start. Maybe it just needs some more time to grow on me. (jsorva@niksula.hut.fi)

I'm just quickly listening, not the proper subsumed within the music first deep listen, but it's gorgeous anyway. Lush and in full bloom—strings, layered voices, French accordion sounds, many of the songs are self-contained worlds. I'd prefer less, some simple acoustic tracks, the odd scratchy unpolished edge, but with a growing understanding of production and how to arrange strings and such it is understandable that Sarah wants to flesh out her songs. She has already heard the plain piano versions, unlike us. (k_hester_k@yahoo.co.nz)


Sarah Slean ep

Release info:

2001—Atlantic—83502-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended for anyone who wants a sampler or who wants a taste of the direction Sarah's now going

Group members:

Sarah Slean

Guest artists:

Not listed

Produced by:

1st 3 tracks Hawksley Workman and Sarah Slean; 4&5 by Mark Mariash and Sarah Slean; 6&7 by Sarah Slean

Comments:

This is a sampler consisting of three new tracks, then two tracks each from Blue Parade and Universe, originally conceived of as a radio promo but made available for sale. The three new tracks definitely continue on from Blue Parade but with perhaps a more cabaret-voiced feel to it with more pronounced vibrato or whatever that's called in her voice. I would say that I don't like the turn she's taken but she's always so damn literate that she catches me. But the style she's singing in now doesn't interest me as much as what she was doing with universe—I find the vibrato somehow overdramatic. (Neile)

i can't say that i'm too annoyed by her "new voice". i am less enthused about the new songs—not because of the voice but because of the songs themselves. they just didn't seem to have the spark that her earlier work has. even "sweet ones", which is a song i've heard several times and like. of course, i realize this was just one listen in non-optimal conditions, so i'm taking my opinion with a grain of salt, but hey! so should you all! ;) (woj@smoe.org)

Well, I got the new Sarah Slean EP in the mail a few days ago, but I actually didn't work up the nerve to listen to it 'til today. I really didn't like the samples I'd heard at all, and didn't want to find out that they truly were representative of the newly recorded stuff. Fortunately, they aren't! This is not to say that I'm enamored of the new stuff however.
     I suppose I should do this in order...
     Track 1—"Eliot": Umm... I really don't like this new version of the song at all, and of the three newly done tracks I think it's easily the worst. Sarah's "new voice" just doesn't fit the song at all in my opinion, and I think the production is kinda dreadful too.
     Track 2—"Book Smart, Street Stupid": I think this one fits Sarah's "new voice" the best, though at times I still found it grating on me a little. Frankly, I don't hate Sarah's new sound the way some people do, but I do think she's taken things too far in using it. There are points in the songs where the vibrato thing works fine, and then there are others where I just found it tiresome. Oh, and once again I wasn't at all fond of the production. Sense a trend here?
     Track 3—"Sweet Ones": I'd heard this song live several times, and really loved it, but...well, I think there's just way too much going on in this version. Once again it's a matter of production and arrangements. One thing that did impress me about this track though was what seemed to me a more restrained, and therefore much better, use of the "new voice".
     So, as you can see, I'm not particularly thrilled with the newly released material. I'll likely buy the new album, and I'll definitely go see Sarah perform live every chance I get, but I just don't think I'm going to be very enthusiastic about the album itself. I'm looking forward to future albums, which I hope will in no way involve Hawksley Workman and will see another change in Sarah's vocal delivery. (mcurry@io.com)

I haven't been able to listen to her EP more than once, because it's so painful to hear her butchering songs I really used to love. (meth@smoe.org)


Night Bugs

Release info:

2002—WEA/Atlantic Canada—2 93093

Availability:

Wide in Canada

Ecto priority:

Recommended for fans and for those who can get past the change in her vocal style

Group members:

Sarah Slean—piano, vocals, xylophone, synth, bass, vibraphone, cello, fingersnaps/handclaps, ride cymbal, wurlitzer, tambourine

Guest artists:

Hawksley Workman—timpani, drums, acoustic, bass, wurlitzer, acoustic guitar, synth, drum programming, guitars, sleighbells, tambourine, vocals, acoustic bass, fingersnaps/handclaps, conga, shaker, organ
Derrick Brady—bass, xylophone, fingersnaps/handclaps, cymbals
Kurt Swinghammer—electric guitar, electric noise
Clif Norrel—drum programming, drums
Damien Shannon, Greg O'Shea—fingersnaps/handclaps
Sarah McElcheran—trumpet solo
Jim Hunes, Jeff Kievit—trumpet
Christ Horkner—French horn
Michael Davis—trombone
Peter Seminov, Eric Leong—violin
Judith McIntyre, Dana Leong—cello
Valentina Charlap-Evans—viola

Produced by:

Hawksley Workman and Sarah Slean

Comments:

Genius. In my opinion the new Sarah Slean cd is tops...full of passion, beauty and great tunes. I thought Blue Parade was nice but a bit bloodless. The new one rocks my world. On my best of 2002 list. (stjarnell@yahoo.com)

I'm totally obsessing over this. Totally. I think I've determined that it's actually better than the Universe ep, which is such a relief after my disappointment with Blue Parade. he new album is all over the board—rock, girl-with-piano (though not in the sparse, confessional way...), cabaret and all bursting with bombasty goodness. Interesting lyrics, fabulous vocals, great string and horn arrangements (fun, playful horns! in a sarah slean song!). Great new arrangements of a few tracks from Blue Parade that blow the originals out of the water (e.g. "Weight"). And "Book Smart, Street Stupid" alone is probably worth the price of admission. Wow.
     Yay! It's time to defy meth! This was, without a doubt, my most-listened-to album of the year, and I think it's clearly Sarah's best work. Absolutely brilliant. (burka@jeffrey.net)

And for a view from the opposite end of the spectrum: I find Night Bugs completely unlistenable. It completely affirms every one of the fears I'd had since listening to the EP last summer.
     I wish I could turn back the clock and make it so I had never heard of Sarah Slean prior to the release of Night Bugs—then maybe it would do something besides totally depress me. If I didn't know what a gorgeous voice she has, or what incredibly beautiful music she can make when she's not trying to channel some dead cabaret singer, I could possibly enjoy this CD.
     But as it is, her singing style on this CD makes me cringe. It is totally beyond me why someone with such a vocal gift would deliberately set out to sound like hell. The new songs are a bit easier to take, because I don't find myself fondly thinking back on how wonderful the original versions sounded and fervently wishing she'd just left well enough alone.
     (I'm still not sure how much I would have been able to enjoy the CD if I hadn't heard her earlier work though, because the whole neo-cabaret thing leaves me cold. I just read an interview with Sarah in the Canadian press which says that now she's "more Rufus [Wainwright] than Tori", which I think sums up why I don't like what she's doing now. My aversion to Rufus Wainwright has been well documented in ecto. :)
     <sigh>
     Oh well. At least I still have working copies of Universe and Blue Parade for those times when I need a Slean fix.
     I'm sorry to say that 2002 was the year I officially gave up on Sarah Slean. She was so promising, and for a time one of my absolute favorites.... To add insult to injury, she re-recorded one of my favorite songs by anyone ever, "Weight" and buried it under layers of unnecessary overproduction. I can only hope that she goes back to making beautiful music someday, but until then, I'm done. (meth@smoe.org)

Much to my surprise, I quite like this. After not liking the ep or, actually, Blue Parade that much, and especially as I had adored adored adored Universe, I was hesitant to get this and almost didn't. I bought Night Bugs reluctantly. I'm not a big fan of cabaret-style singing and I loved universe so much (though found her follow-up a little undistinctive). I was surprised how much I liked Night Bugs. Parts of it didn't work for me, but overall I quite like it. So, just like you: theoretically, not my cup of tea, but on disc it somehow won me over. But I really quite like the songs, as long as I don't listen too closely to the overstylized vocals (cabaret stylings always sound a little warbly/constipated to me) and I don't expect to hear Universe-type singing and songs.
     So anyway, once I get past my own memories, I find this an interesting album with intriguing sounds and strong songwriting. If this were the first thing of hers I had heard, I'd be recommending it all over the place. (Neile)

Sarah got a lot of grief about this album and her affected cabaret-like vocals, but I personally loved it. Great piano, dramatic, catchy. (jjhanson@att.net)

I agree with most of the criticism—heartfelt piano girl turns cabaret with wobbling aged voice, arrangements involving an overwhelming number of jostling instruments. Sarah Slean's new album is like an ornate gown so heavily laden that the body inside appears slight and cannot move her arms to express herself.
     But I really really like it! The melodies are so catchy, best-of-Tanya-Donelly catchy. The over-the-top arrangements can sometimes be ignored and other times embraced. It's a bit like the movie Moulin Rouge—I completely understand that many people found it all gaudy style and artifice and way to fast and loud, a piece of decorative art; but I found the romance beneath it all heartfelt, and enjoyed failures and daring. Night Bugs can be too much, but Blue Parade was a well-behaved cd of too little, and I'm singing along.
     'Eliot' was already a show-tune for me so I don't mind the silly number of instruments. The string crescendo reaches hysteria and Sarah oos and wuhos according to the lyric sheet, which is fine since it's not about ordinary day stuff or delicate emotions. I'm happy.
     'Weight' however demonstrates how a song can collapse under different instruments. There's even a percussion break where the drums seem lifted from Lamb—not just a different time tempo but a different genre. There are doodling sci-fi-ish electronic noises and so many backing voices and a wurlitzer and vibraphone and when I complained that the original 'Weight' didn't have a heavy enough bass line, I just meant meatier bass guitar, low end of the piano and perhaps a cello growling—not this. Sheesh.
     I really like 'Drastic Measures' which isn't pared down enough, but doesn't overwhelm its menacing deeper sounds so much as 'Weight'.
     'Duncan' is fun theatre but again less could be more, singing "oh you fool, you fool!.. rage my darling, rage!" would sound much better in a blowsy overly romantic manner. However all the instruments make the song so structured that she can't lean into notes and deviate from the beat to emphasise.
     I think of the earlier released songs 'Book smart, street stupid', 'Sweet ones' and 'Bank Accounts' together, and they all successfully meld their theatrical arrangements to the songs. Well, they could be less over the top but whatever. The line "i was a lead in the orphan choir and i sang with all my might" is sooo perfect. These are so catchy, insanely catchy, yummy mouth-filled-to-bursting-with candy catchy.
     'Dark room' is a mystery, just strings with darkly printed lyrics yet no recorded voice. I'm trying to slide the words into it. 'St. Francis' is a shady ballad with the piano dripping as if underwater, and might appeal to people who aren't fond of the album. I don't need another 'My invitation' and can't tell on a cursory listen how it differs from the previous version.
     'Me, I'm a thief' begins with what sounds like an airplane taking off amid the vandalisation of pianos, and it is slow and dark and has lots of little noises. And bigger noises, clinging to the heavy beat and beeping, which get to me but hopefully I'll come to ignore them.
     It's annoying having to learn to ignore things in an album. I used to hear songs as they are recorded, but now I look for the song behind the recording and sometimes want a different version. Ain't imagination a bugger.
     Hopefully Sarah will mine other areas in her career, but a few albums like this would be fine with me. (k_hester_k@yahoo.co.nz)


Day One

Release info:

2004—WEA—2 61810

Availability:

Wide in Canada and from online vendors

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Sarah Slean—piano, vocals, string arrangement/programming, wurlitzer, keyboards, strings, trumpet programming, glockenspiel, orchestral programming, acoustic guitar, timpani, synth bass

Guest artists:

Dan Kurtz—bass, keyboards, guitar, programming
Gavin Brown—drums
Kurt Swinghammer—electric guitar, guitar, acoustic guitar
Peter Prilesnik—acoustic guitar, drum programming, bass, guitar
Alex Grant—cello
Karen Graves—violin
Ian D'sa—guitar
Rocky Singh—drums
Paul Brennan—drums
Andrew Aldridge—guitar
Stefan Szczesniak—drums
Howie Beck—backing vocals

Produced by:

Peter Prilesnik, Dan Kurtz and Sarah Slean

Comments:

When I first heard some tracks online ("Lucky Me", "Day One" and "California"), I was totally blown away. This was EXACTLY the music I wanted her to make after the fabulous album Night Bugs. I even realised it was the music I wanted Tori to make! Especially the song "California", it is such an amazing song, she performs it in such an achingly beautiful way. "Lucky Me" even has a commercial feel to it, so it's indeed the best choice as the lead single. When I bought the CD at a small Sarah gig here in the Netherlands, I was very pleased when I played it. For me it is impossible to surpass Night Bugs, but Day One does come close. Her vocal style is similar to the Night Bugs album, and even sounds rougher here and there ("Pilgrim", "The Score"). Out of the 12 songs (11 plus one hidden track) there are only two that do not really work for me, which makes this album better than most in my collection. (homebeforedark@yahoo.com)

It's great. One for the year's best list. (stjarnell@yahoo.com)

It's produced and engineered by Peter Prilesnik, the same guy who co-produced Sarah Harmer's first solo album, You Were Here. His touch is quite apparent, resulting in an instantly catching album. Sarah's definitely moved away from the torchy, cabaret feel of Night Bugs, which I think should please a few of you here with the production of the songs. It's strange, but in solo performance, the songs still retain that feel, but on the CD, it's nearly obscured. (paul2k@aol.com)


Orphan Music

Release info:

2006—Warner Music Canada—2 63923

Availability:

Wide in Canada; online ordering through MapleMusic.com or Amazon.ca

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Sarah Slean

Guest artists:

Todor Kobakov—string arrangement on "Weight"
Karen Graves (Blue Spruce String Quartet)—violin
Katherine Sugden (Blue Spruce String Quartet)—violin
Anna Redekopp (Blue Spruce String Quartet)—viola
Alex Grant (Blue Spruce String Quartet)—cello

Produced by:

Martin Terefe (11, 12)

Comments:

I'm not a big Sarah Slean fan. I've had her Universe ep for years, and I like it, but don't play it often. Then one day I found myself at her website, and I started listening to her new album, Orphan Music. I absolutely LOVE this album. A lot of the songs have a kind of cabaret style that people have debated on ecto before. For me, it really works. Listening to Universe, I'm strongly reminded of Tori Amos. But listening to Orphan Music, I don't think of anyone else. You can listen to most of the album (11 of 15 tracks) on the website. There are 9 live tracks, plus 2 b-sides and 4 "remixes" which aren't really remixes so much as string quartet arrangements. I love the redone version of "Weight." Both the live and studio tracks are highly, highly recommended. (JoAnn Whetsell)

The Baroness

Release info:

2008—Warner Music Canada—2 963614

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Sarah Slean—piano, organ, mission organ, sounds, bells, guitar, vocals; all string arrangements and conducting; all horn arrangements

Guest artists:

Mark Mariash—drums
Joe Phillips—bass, guitars
Jagori Tanna—guitars, percussion
Meran Currie-Roberts—cello
Denis Keldie—organ
Richard Underhill—saxes
Peter Von Althen—drums
Drew Jurecka, Rebekah Wolkstein—violin
Johan Lotter—viola
Mary-Katherine Finch—cello
Miranda Mulholland—background vocals
Diane Doig—French horn
Royal Wood—background vocals
Drew Birston—bass
Derrick Brady—bass
John Southworth—reading (11)
Ron Sexsmith—background vocals
Tod Clarke—background vocals
Noah Mintz—background vocals

Produced by:

Jagori Tanna and Sarah Slean

Comments:

I'm really enjoying The Baroness. I had lost interest in Sarah Slean after Universe and returned to her music with her wonderful, (mostly) live album Orphan Music. I thought The Baroness would follow in that direction—catcy, upbeat, theatrical. "Parasol," the bonus download for people who pre-ordered is in that vein. It's a great song, but I can understand why it's not on the album; it really wouldn't fit. The single "Get Home" is more representative of the album. Many of the songs are mid-tempo ballads, and on first listen, the album sounds pretty samey. There's more variety than is at first apparent, but it's subtle. On subsequent listens the songs began to differentiate themselves, and I can hear different textures that I missed the first time. There's the beautifully haunting "Shadowland," the up-tempo pop-rock of "So Many Miles," the dark cabaret-tinged and string-accented rock of "Sound of Water/Change Your Mind," the light and springy "Notes from the Underground," the simple but elegant "Looking for Someone," a beautiful ending to an excellent album. (JoAnn Whetsell)

To me one of my favorite Sarah Slean albums—a bit more restrained/reserved, but some really beautiful material on this one. (jjhanson@att.net)


The Baroness Redecorates ep

Release info:

2008—Warner Canada

Availability:

Available digitally from Sarah Slean's site

Ecto priority:

Recommended for Sarah Slean fans

Group members:

Sarah Slean—string arrangements

Guest artists:

String Tracks 1-3: Drew Jurecka, Rebekah Wolkstein—violin (1-3)
Johan Lotter—viola (1-3)
Mary-Katherine Finch—cello (1-3)
Ben Bowman, Jenny Thompson—violin (4-7)
Doug Perry—viola (4-7)
John Marshman—cello
Mark Mariash—drums (1)
Joe Philips—bass (1, 3, 4, 5, 6) Denis Keldie—accordion (1, 4)

Produced by:

Jagori Tanna and Sarah Slean

Comments:

An ep of non-album tracks from The Baroness.

A lovely companion piece to The Baroness. (JoAnn Whetsell)


Beauty Lives: B-Sides

Release info:

2010

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Recommended for fans

Group members:

Sarah Slean—vocals, timpani, strings, toy piano and mission organ

Guest artists include:

Royal Wood—mandolin

Produced by:

Royal Wood

Comments:

A collection of unreleased songs from throughout Sarah's career. I find this pretty boring and rather similar to the "Sea" disc of Land & Sea (two songs appear on both releases). (JoAnn Whetsell)

Land & Sea

Release info:

2011—Pheromone Recordings

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Comments:

Another good album from Sarah. I prefer the pop-cabaret of the first disc 'Land' to the second disc 'Sea,' which is a little boring. Not sure why people think this album is so much better than The Baroness; I thought that was a wonderful album, and I don't find Land & Sea to be all that different. (JoAnn Whetsell)

I'm enjoying Land & Sea much more than Sarah's forgettable last album (seriously forgettable—I only remember the b-side "Parasol" and the general color of the album cover). Also more fun than the Beauty Lives b-sides album, which was more in the style of boring Baroness-Slean rather than delightful early-Slean.
     'Land' is 9 poppy songs, some full-on pop and some cabaret-ish. I particularly love "Life," an anthem celebrating the big bang, sort of. The single "Set it Free" is too simple and happy for me, but the rest of 'Land' is great fun. The production is more straight-forward pop than the ornate overdone Night Bugs.
     Second half 'Sea' is 9 ballads with lots of strings. Maybe too many strings—they're an indistinguishable lush bunch before repeated listening uncovers the individual songs. 'Sea' might be the deeper batch of songs though I'm currently enjoying the pop buzz of 'Land' more. I enjoy Sarah's tone of wistfulness and nostalgia, especially since it's vague enough to be more a mood than desire for any past particulars. Her voice is still mannered and sometimes a bit prissy and crisp. 'Napoleon' is passionately deranged. Most of the other songs are love songs. Another version of "Everything by the Gallon" wasn't needed. (k_hester_k@yahoo.co.nz)

I really like the 'Sea' part. I think "The Right Words" has become my favorite song of 2011. It's so beautiful and "Cosmic Ballet" is another standout track. The other part of the album has some very nice songs as well. I agree a definite improvement from The Baroness (which wasn't a bad album but a little on the bland side). (onyx@vianet.ca)


Metaphysics

Release info:

2017—The Baroness, Inc.—0 61297 53622 1

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Sarah Slean—vocals, piano, moog bass, percussion, organ, tambourine, bells, organ bass, keys, glockenspiel, Wurlitzer; string conductor (2, 5, 8)

Guest artists:

Joshua Van Tassel—loops (1, 3); percussion (1, 3, 5, 6, 8); drums (1, 3, 5, 7); ambient sounds (3); synths (6)
Hawksley Workman—percussion (1); guitars, drums (1, 2, 8); loops (2, 8)
Jean Martin—drums (2, 6, 9); percussion (7)
Ryan McCambridge—loops, synths (2)
Isabelle Lavoie—trombone (2)
Bret Higgins—bass (3); double bass (2, 5, 8)
Daniel Romano—drums (4); bass, synths, programming (4, 5); vocals (5)
William Sperandei—trumpet (4)
Jonathan Goldsmith—pulsing synth (5)
Christine Bougie—lap steel (7, 9)
Dean Drouillard—guitar (7, 9)
Andrew Downing—bass (7, 9)
Leslie Ting—solo violin (9)
Bradley Thachuk—string conductor
Leslie Ting, Madlen Breckbill, Natalia Zelinski-Chaturvedi, Lynn Kuo, Emily Hau, Cecilia Chang, Suhashini Arulanandam—violin
Rory McLeod, Moira Burke, Jesse Morrison—viola
Lydia Muchinsky, Bryan Holt, Peter Cosbey—cello
Anne Lindsay, Emily Kruspe—violin (2, 5, 8)
Jesse Morrison—viola (2, 5, 8)
Bryan Holt—cello (2, 5, 8)

Produced by:

Hawksley Workman (1, 2, 8); Joshua Van Tassel (1, 3); Sarah Slean (2-4, 6-10); Jean Martin (2, 3, 6-10); Daniel Romano (4, 5)

Comments:

Another beautiful album. There is so much to like—Sarah's voice is clear and gorgeous, the arrangements, the production... Everything is well done. It slows down in the middle, however, and while the songs on the album's second half are still very good, I wish there was a little more variation in the tempo to help them stand out more. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Further info:

DVD: Land & Sea Live in Montreal (2015)

Compilation work includes:

  • "I Know" on Women and Songs 2 (1998)
  • "Awake Soon" on Refuge: A Benefit for the People of Kosovo (1999)
  • "Mary" on Feminissima (2007)
  • "The Right Thing"* on Toronto Sings the Breithaupt Brothers Songbook (2009)
  • "Not for Sale"* on Song for Africa: Rwanda: Rises Up! (2011)
*Track not available elsewhere.

Collaborations include:

  • "Passion Play" with The Roaring Girl Cabaret on In Last Night's Party Clothes (2008)
  • Black Flowers, an album of covers, with Art of Time Ensemble (2009)
  • "Canada to Kigali" with Damhnait Doyle, Tim Edwards, Steve Bays & Grand Analog, K8, and Rafiki on Song for Africa: Rwanda: Rises Up! (2011)
  • "Amazing Grace" with Damhnait Doyle, Tim Edwards, Steve Bays, Queen Gaga and the Heaveners on Song for Africa: Rwanda: Rises Up! (2011)


Thanks to Wouter Reedijk and JoAnn Whetsell for work on this entry.

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