Every so often, an album drops on my desk for review accompanied by a sizeable surprise of one kind or another. That some of these albums ever actually see the light of day is never a surprise, sadly. The ever-lower costs of recording and production has a dark side to offset the obvious advantages of no longer being shackled to a purely commercial record company machine, and a lot of that darkness casts deep and depressing shadows over the keyboards of music reviewers the world over.
The surprise in the case of the new release from Sarah Morris, “Hearts In Need Of Repair”, is not that the album is so good. Her first two albums, and in particular the 2015 release “Ordinary Things“, set expectations high for this third collection, and those expectations have been met and exceeded.
The surprise is that the album was fan-funded by a kickstarter campaign, and without any industry backing. I’m pretty astonished, if I’m honest, that “Ordinary Things” didn’t trigger an avalanche of money men wanting to sign her up to contracts of various kinds….. And as I write that, I start to wonder whether Morris had the offers but chose instead to avoid the shackles mentioned previously?
Whatever the reason, the fans who put their hands in their pockets for “Hearts In Need Of Repair” have been richly rewarded. We see the continuing development of a singer-songwriter who has a deep understanding of the structures and cadences of a multitude of genres, from country to folk to pop, married with a subtlety and deftness of touch that makes all that technical understanding sound completely natural and effortless. (Taylor Swift and her subsequent army of cross-over wannabees should take notes.)
Slightly less country than “Ordinary Things”, the songwriting is complimented by a group of accomplished musicians who skip lightly through the spaces between genre rules and stereotypes, and by exceptional production quality that belies the budget available, and that sets the bar yet higher for all “home” produced music.
If ever there was a need for an antidote to the Trump/Brexit/PerfectGiftForChristmas cacophony, it’s now. And if ever there was a perfect antidote, it’s this album. That’s not to suggest for a moment that this is an album only “of its time”. On the contrary, it’ll long outlast all the ills that it cures, and all the abrasions that it soothes.
There are several highlights – Helium, On A Stone, and Confetti to name just three of my favourites – but this album is a delight from top to bottom, and you’ll have your own picks for sure.
The album is available on the usual on-line outlets, or head over to her website at http://www.sarahmorrismusic.com/product/heartscd/ to buy direct (always the best way to buy from self-producing artists). Sadly, you won’t get the home-baked cakes that the $80 kickstarter funders got, but you will get one of the best albums of the year!