You haven’t known me very long—or maybe at all if you’re a total newbie. Either way, welcome! Being that we are newly acquainted, you are probably unaware of my borderline unhealthy attachment to Piano Pop. Piano Pop is at the top of my list of musical fixes, and has been since I was around 12, possibly even before then. Piano just makes my ears happy, as do heartfelt, thoughtful lyrics, words so deep that they give the Pacific Ocean a run for its money and lines that make me feel something.
The first keys-driven compilation that stole my heart from the first track to the last was singer/songwriter Sara Bareilles’ 2007 debut Little Voice. Since I discovered it in 2009, I haven’t been able to go more than, say, two weeks, without revisiting at least one of the songs on it. And even that dons the Potato Chip Principle—one leads to another and pretty soon I’ve listened to a solid three-fourths of the album in one sitting.
Little Voice opens with one of my favorite songs on the album of all time; the foot-in-the-door hit that jumpstarted her successful career: “Love Song.” Her piano chops shine through as she knocks out a distinct chord progression that makes the track strong right from the first note. This song is all about her telling it like it is when a gentleman caller pressures her to write a love song just for him without letting it spring straight from her heart. Any artist will tell you that forcing creativity is like trying to force a maple tree to put out gallons of quality sap in ten seconds flat. She hits the nail on the head here–it just doesn’t work.
Other numbers that tickled my fancy are “Bottle It Up,” “One Sweet Love,” “Between the Lines,” “City,” “Love on the Rocks,” “Come Round Soon,” and “Gravity.” Bareilles’ piano game is solid for every single track, but her lyric skills stand up to her knack for her instrument of choice. Bareilles’ sweet, versatile vocals serve her well on her subtly (or, in some cases, overtly) feisty zingers like “oh, but sensible selves, could you kindly shut up?” in “Bottle It Up” and the Snow White ref, “’Cause what else would you do with seven itty bitty men?” in “Fairytale.” Her raw, needing truth bleeds through “City” when she frankly pleads, “I’m finding every reason to be gone, there’s nothing here to hold onto–could I hold you?
I love almost every solitary second of Little Voice, but I’m a smidge less enamored of “Many the Miles” or “Morningside.” I feel like “Many the Miles” toes the line of cheesiness. Even so, I appreciate the soulful, almost gospel-esque side that Bareilles spotlights in it. It lurks in the background on just about every piece on the disc, but it comes on full force in “Many the Miles.” As for “Morningside,” there’s no denying that it’s a sound ditty lyrically. I just can’t get into the bongos and don’t feel like it’s quite as strong as its siblings on the record. But make no mistake—this isn’t the runt of the pack. It’s still a stout piece in its own right.
All in all, Little Voice, is a well-balanced mix of beautiful vulnerability, unmistakable confidence, and the palpable fun, hard work, and soul she poured into this album. While Bareilles has honed her distinct sound and grown and matured her style, as artists are wont to do, her fresh-meat album still holds its own among the EPs and full-length albums that have followed.
Sara Bareilles’ most recent accomplishment was penning the soundtrack for the Broadway musical Waitress. She released a compilation of it with none other than master songstress herself on vocals, and the album changed my long-held belief that musicals can’t have tolerable music, let alone phenomenal gems that I would listen to on a regular basis (the “Lonely Goatherd” cringer from The Sound of Music might have played a major part in that). I can’t help but wonder how her next album will rock my world. Maybe she’ll make me finally warm up to new-age country?