For lovers of quality pop with a brain this is no little achievement.
Chris Jones 2008-06-13
Sara Bareilles is a 28-year-old singer songwriter whose career trajectory has been carefully nurtured following the signing of a major label deal three years ago. Before this she'd already recorded a self-produced album, Careful Confessions (2003). Already doing sterling business in the US, it's taken a year for this album to be finally released in the UK, possibly for fear that her album would be lost in the flood of female singer songwriters currently filling up the AOR airwaves. But Epic needn't have worried. Little Voice displays a more than competent grasp of pop dynamics, and Bareilles' voice balances sultry with strident impressively. While it'll leave the youth market cold, Bareilles' tough-but-tender confessionals and jaunty, multi-layered beatle-esque pop for grown ups (a la Jellyfish or Aimee Mann) should easily find a home in the hearts of more seasoned ears.
It's this aspect of Sara Bareilles' work - especially on Fairytale, Bottle It Up or Love Song - that will draw older listeners. The lush backing vocals, upbeat cynicism and clever, slightly psychedelic, loping arrangements hit the mark with ease. There are other odious comparisons to make of course - someone this new on the scene can't escape them - Fiona Apple for downers maybe, or Tori Amos without the irritating quirkiness? But the latter reference is probably more down to the fact that Little Voice is produced by Eric Rosse who helmed several of Amos' albums. The fact is that Bareilles is still finding her true vocabulary; the sonic pallette on display here is wiggling its behind and getting comfortable in one place. So apart from the worryingly mainstream fare like Between The Lines which has seen her matched in a support role to acts like Ben Folds, Maroon 5 or even Counting Crows there's the far more interesting r 'n' b twist that surfaces on tracks like Come Round Soon or the Benny And The Jets-meets-Hall and Oates blue-eyed confection, Love On The Rocks. Elsewhere Many The Miles demonstrates that she's best when being upfront about her own experiences with a slinky beat to coax her more distinctive vocal side.
There is a slight caveat emptor clause for faithful followers, as several of the tracks on offer here are re-recorded tracks that were on Careful Confessions (albeit vastly improved), plus the piano ballads like City or Gravity simply drag the pace too much, even though they never lapse into excessively maudlin introspection. Whether this kind of very American music will find an audience beyond the parameters of a Radio 2 audience remains to be seen. But for lovers of quality pop with a brain this is no little achievement.