“Here’s something for you to put down…”
These are the first lyrics you hear from the enigmatic L.A. singer/songwriter Sarabeth Tucek. What a song that opening track, a memorable one it is, and it is one that I had heard years before when she was a member of the Brian Jonestown Massacre. A few years back when she was working with ever-reclusive genius Anton Newcombe, Sarabeth collaborated with him on the track “Seer.” I’ll never forget the first time I heard “Seer,” the lyrics “I’ve gone and left you a song” were shared with me by a former flame after she left. It’s one hell of a song to give to a former love and to this day I’m grateful that she did. She knew how much I loved Brian Jonestown Massacre and adored the female voice.
When I put in Sarabeth’s debut disc, and those first lyrics came on, I knew that song but in a different light. The song that I once knew as “Seer” has been stripped down, or de-Anton-ized if you will, and now called “Something For You.” I prefer this version without the echo and effects. You can really hear Sarabeth’s Nico-esque voice come through in this mix.
Nico is the perfect jumping off point when trying to pin point the sound of Sarabeth’s voice. But Sarabeth goes much deeper than the former Velvet Underground vocalist; I like to think her vocals are a mixture of Nico and 10,000 Maniacs’ Natalie Merchant. She’s the perfect chanteuse that not many people have had the pleasure of hearing, though she has been fortunate enough to open for the likes of Bob Dylan, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Ray Lamontagne.
Speaking of Ray Lamontagne, his producer Ethan Johns, known for his work with Ryan Adams, along with Kings of Leon Luther Russell, helmed production duties on Sarabeth Tucek. Her debut CD is anything but your normal singer/songwriter acoustic album. Johns and Russell compliment Tucek’s exceptional voice with just the right instrumentation. Just check out “Holy Smoke.” Good choice to layer the backing track with feed-backing and rhythmic guitars. It sounds kind of like an amalgamation of Ryan Adams and The Velvet Underground with Sarabeth crooning “God said…I gave you a song…for you to keep for your own.” Johns and Russell’s riffs match the lyrical intensity of Tucek’s fascinating prose.
“Hey You” is a sultry and smoky number that would sound perfect at a Jazz club. I love the Johns pedal steel guitar wails complementing Tucek’s sexy vocal as she sings to a former flame. This seems to be the overall theme of Sarabeth Tucek; the songs sound like lyrical odes to an intense love that has since perished. The organ on “Come Back, Balloon” sounds like one you would hear at a procession at a church symbolizing the end of an affair. Then the banjo and harmonica comes out of nowhere and turns “Come Back, Balloon” into a beautiful alt-country lament over someone she left behind.
There’s a lot of depth in Tucek’s vocal that carry most of the songs into the realm of timelessness, and I do like the simplicity in some of the arrangements, like in the beautiful “Nightlight,” especially the intimate piano keys playing in the background as a perfect accompaniment to Tucek’s amazing lyrics. One of my favorite songs has to be “Hot Tears.” It starts off with an acoustic guitar strumming along to Sarabeth’s heart aching vocal and then turns into an electric number, when she sings “Then you’ll lay me down/ don’t let anyone come around,” as those killer guitar riffs come in like a reigning flashback from a movie you want to revisit again.
Sarabeth Tucek’s debut CD is more than a painful ode to heartbreak; I liken her songs to a soundtracked homage to love, a love that most of us yearn to experience. There’s beauty, hope and pain layered through out this emotional and exceptional album. Sarabeth Tucek is a vocalist with a classic vibe and post-modern sound that needs to be experienced. When she sings “Guess you’ve always been the one…when there’s no one left to call/ I’m blowing kisses as I fall,” you long to be the one who’s catching those imaginary kisses.
Nico – Chelsea Girl
The Tyde – Three’s Co.
Mazzy Star – So Tonight That I Might See