The 12 (or so) Records of Xmas: Sarah Slean – The Baroness

Sarah Slean - The Baroness

[a.k.a. #8 of However Many I Care to List, in No Particular Order: Albums That I Have Listened To Both Intermittently And Incessantly, That I Imagine I Will Continue To Listen To Periodically For The Remainder Of My Life, Which I Consider To Be The Seminal Works Of (Or Most Accessible Entry Points To) Musical Artists Whom I Believe Have Been Woefully Underrated And Criminally Underrepresented In The Modern Music Canon At Large, And Which Also At Some Point While Playing I Have Very Likely Been Asked To Turn Down or Turn Off]

A bit of a departure from my other selections, Sarah Slean is a Canadian pianist, singer-songwriter, composer, and visual artist, who began to release music in the late 90’s. I discovered her in the golden era of Napster, because she recorded an unlikely, addictive live cover of Radiohead‘s “Climbing Up the Walls” that came up in my search results (that I otherwise might never have heard her work goes a long way in terms of a defense of pre-streaming music file-sharing services in general).

Nestled somewhere between Tori Amos and Imogen Heap, Sarah struck a deep vein of classically-influenced pop, which she would spend the next decade mining, returning with sonic riches to spare and share. Like a number of other worthwhile Canadian musicians, she never quite caught fire in the States (I’ve only managed to catch her live once, doing five songs solo, squeezed in between two other acts at The Hotel Cafe), though her songs run the gamut from upbeat, radio-friendly toe-tappers to plaintive, elegiac balladry, both often featuring heraldic string sections for which she writes and arranges the parts.

The Baroness contains the perfect balance of each, and for me, is her crowning achievement (followed closely by her 2nd full length album, Night Bugs, but her catalogue is ripe for entry at pretty much any point). Hers are undeniably timeless, ageless songs, carefully crafted, lovingly performed, beautifully sung, and produced with a light touch. Once again, my highest possible praise is to call these songs “transportational.” My playlist of favorites from all her records is entitled “Sleanland,” an infinite, imaginary vista to which only her music can provide a view.

During photo shoots for The Baroness album cover, Sarah muses on why she doesn’t play in LA more often…

This album was at one point tied to an animated short film project, “Tales of the Baroness,” a collaboration with Nelson Chan of Flying Monkey Creations (who also directed music videos for her previous album’s singles “Mary” and “Day One”), the first part of which apparently aired on Bravo in 2007, but I didn’t catch it then, and have never been able to locate the film online, finding presently only a low-resolution trailer and a host of broken links I’ll spare reproducing here. Still, with or without its intended visual accompaniment, these songs remain eternally full (to the point of bursting) with life, love, and stories of their own.

The opening track from The Baroness, which I’m just realizing sounds a little bit like Journey‘s balled “Faithfully.” Having grown up in New Jersey during the 1980’s, in my view, this is not a bad thing.

Oh, so sad, we / love you madly / want to take you home…
Me & Sarah Slean
Catching up with my favorite Canadian songstress in 2011.

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