by Dan Bolles
Perhaps you've noticed, but there was not a new edition of Seven Days stuffed into area newsstands this week. As we do each year, the last issue of 2010 was a double issue, covering both this week and last. (Though if you're jonesing for your "Free Will Astrology" fix, you can catch this week's forecast on the 7D site — the stars, of course, don't take vacations.)
Much to our collective chagrin here at "Vermont's Independent Voice," just because we stop working for ten days doesn't mean you folks stop making news. Or in the case of my particular bailiwick, music. So I would be remiss if I failed to bring to your attention Requited, the brilliant new record from Sara Grace & the Suits, which will be released this Saturday at Burlington's FlynnSpace. Enjoy. [DB]
Sara Grace & the Suits, Requited
Vermonters didn't have to wait long for a great local release in 2011. For years a well-kept secret of central VT music fans, Montpelier-based roots-soul collective Sara Grace & the Suits are set to unveil their hotly anticipated debut album, Requited. Richly orchestrated, imaginatively crafted and expertly executed, the record is a tour de force, revealing the explosive talents of a dynamic local songwriter and serving as a declaration that there may well be more than one Grace to watch for in the Green Mountains.
As its title suggests, Requited is a meditation on finding and then somehow keeping love. The lead track, "Angel," adresses the former with simmering intensity. Asa Brosius' steel lines lap against Ray Paczkowski's organ trills, while a gentle acoustic guitar bobs along in the eddying current. Grace is subdued but compelling as she introduces us to her title character.
"An angel fell from the sky and slipped me a key. / I know she's not mine, not meant for me," she sings, a barely perceptible quiver lacing her delivery. But the promise of love is that even amid despair there is hope. She closes the verse singing, "I need it all, so open the door," as if imploring the chorus of exultant horns that follows to deliver her from self-doubt.
After the ornate arrangements on both "Angel," and the following track, "The Tide," "Behind Shadows" feels bare by comparison. Though the song features a leaner assortment of players, it is nonetheless a deeply nuanced composition. In addition to her veteran backing band, the Suits, Grace has enlisted a wide assortment of guest stars — including vocalist Miriam Bernardo on the lead cut. Here, Anaïs Mitchell's uniquely skinny timbre provides a steely counter to Grace's rich, somber delivery.
Grace was an original cast member in the theatrical productions of Mitchell's folk opera "Hadestown," the star-studded studio recording of which catapulted Vermont's Righteous Babe to international acclaim. Not surprisingly, Grace seems to have taken a few cues from the experience. In particular, her ear for sly, subversive arrangement bears resemblance to that of the opera's aesthetic architect, Michael Chorney, who appears on the record numerous times on baritone sax. The multi-instrumentalist and composer rounds out an impressive horn section that also features trumpeter Brian Boyce, tenor saxophonist Terry Youk and trombone prodigy Andrew Moroz, who, with Grace, co-wrote the album's striking horn arrangements.
From start to finish, Grace proves a sturdy, if direct songwriter. But what sets her apart, what makes her special, is discipline. Rarely are her wounded musings overwrought, and rarely are her more joyful moments — fleeting though they may be — earnest or cloying. Similarly, though she is quite obviously capable of jaw-dropping vocal acrobatics, she is judicious in the deployment of her considerable ability. She teases and flirts, favoring measured cool over inflated histrionics. Of course, that tantalizing tension only makes the eventual release more satisfying, as on the scintillating album closer, "Woman Sweet Woman," which burns and bends with smoldering blues fire as Grace finally indulges her elite chops. Requited, indeed.
Sara Grace & the Suits — and a slew of special guests … wink wink — celebrate the release of Requited this Saturday at the FlynnSpace, 8 p.m. $15.