Dew Process/Universal Music DEW9000501
Reviewed by Mandy Stefanakis, April 1st, 2014
Sarah Blasko. It’s the voice. You can wrap it in anything you like, or not at all. Some singers are singers. Blasko is a soul-smith. She reaches into the core of herself and picks out the seeds, slowly. It ain’t pretty, but it is beautiful. I Awake is a risky business. There are strings, lots of them. You can always fall into the trap of doing a Phil Spector – a bridge too far over The Long and Winding Road. There are many bridged instruments here, a whole orchestra of them, but bizarrely it works. Despite the massive Swedish influences in the making and recording of this album, there are times when it feels like you are in downtown Havana circa 1953. It’s one part husky tone, two parts urban heat, a smattering of brushed tom, a taste of octave doubling on piano, an enduring Cuban style jazz rhythm, oh, and the strings. This is particularly evident on one of my favourite tracks, All of Me. Okay it’s not just the voice. Age does not tarnish the desire for romance, no, that’s the wrong word. Completeness, we crave completeness. Here it is in all its fulsomeness and warmth. With utter frankness Blasko pours herself into this beautifully rendered song, lyrically and melodically.
As in previous albums, particularly What the Sea Wants the Sea Will Have and As Day Follows Night, Blasko enjoys experimenting with orchestration and ensemble colouring and her creative extravagance in this regard is matched here by a maturing voice – a haunting world comfort tone that she captures more and more in her work. There’s an assuredness across the album which draws the listener into places that one would easily reject in the hands of a lesser songstress. Did you really want that string glissando? Yep. Okay, well actually it enhances the feel. Hmm, now I really like it! An Arrow delves into spheres reminiscent, in part, of Daniel Johns’ similar exploits with strings. This too, is a very strong and adventurous song.
There is an endearing quirkiness to Blasko’s expression of self which she explores on the album with every crevice of her voice, from the lower notes on the earthy title track, to the heavenly upper ones on the last, Not Yet, a plea-bargain with God for more time. But it’s not an anxious plea, quite the reverse. It’s very much an ‘I’m in a good place now, so could I have some more life please?’ request. But Blasko shows she has also experienced the transitory nature of love in Illusory Light. She knows the good stuff can be ephemeral. Her poetic view of the world embraces sea, sky and earth as essential aspects of the life experience. Though the music is lavish throughout, the messages are simple and universal.
Her production on this album is so brave, so exacting and very rewarding. Enjoy your beautiful, time-fragile place Sarah Blasko. As you say, ‘Let it be your oyster, your pearl’ and thanks for sharing.