Tuesday, July 19, 2011

If You’ve Got Little Voice By Sara Bareilles, You Don't Need Between The Lines!

The Good: Good vocals, Some decent lyrics
The Bad: Short, Repeats most of prior album, Nothing exceptionally different/new, Visually dull DVD.
The Basics: A particularly uninspired “live” album, Between The Lines: Sara Bareilles Live At The Fillmore flops for anyone who heard her breakout album.

Those who know me personally or through my reviews know that I am a big fan of women in music. One woman with a guitar, one woman at a piano, I can dig them so long as their lyrics are interesting and good and they have a quality to them that makes them stand out. While many of my favorite musical artists no longer chart on the U.S. charts (Heather Nova has not even bothered releasing her last few albums to the U.S. marketplace, despite having the brand new 300 Days At Sea released in the UK!), I still go hunting for the next female artist worth listening to. A few years back, virtually everyone I knew was betting I'd love the works of Sara Bareilles, though I found her album a little more limited than most.

So, as I was checking out my local library's shelves (whatwith their failure to get me in more Tina Turner albums before the end of the month!), I was pleasantly surprised to discover a newer Sara Bareilles album: Between The Lines: Sara Bareilles Live At The Fillmore .Unfortunately for Bareilles, this is a poor remake of her most popular (to date) album. Just as I found myself seriously underwhelmed by Katy Perry Unplugged because of the way it offered listeners almost nothing truly new, Between The Lines is a smack in the face to anyone who bought the Sara Bareilles album Little Voice as this is mostly that album remade as a live album. Between The Lines is a cd/DVD set and it is hard to see why the supposedly prolific artist (who is one of the performers at several stops on this summer's Lilith Fair) even bothered.

With only a dozen tracks occupying around fifty minutes of music, Between The Lines: Live At The Fillmore is hardly an exceptional example of the talents of singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles . . . or at least not a terribly impressive exploration of what she can do beyond what listeners are likely to already have heard. To her credit, Sara Bareilles was involved in writing all of the tracks, save the classic “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay.” The fact that she wrote all of the others (co-wrote in the case of “Love On The Rocks”) speaks to her ability as a singer-songwriter. Bareilles performs all of the lead vocals on her songs, as well as playing piano or guitar on each track. While she was not involved in the production of the music or video, it does seem to be her musical vision which is represented, as these songs are presented in such a way that they sound a lot like her more produced versions from Little Voice.

And that is going to be the fundamental, recurring problem with Between The Lines. All but two of the tracks were on Little Voice and these live versions are so close to the originals that most have a running time within a second of the studio cut! And while Bareilles might have a great stage personality in person, it does not come through on the audio c.d. The DVD has minimal interaction with the audience and as a result, the viewer feels like they are watching an extended music video of the most bland and banal kind.

That said, it is hard to ignore that Bareilles has talent, even if Between The Lines is not her most original or stunning work. Bareilles has a beautiful voice that has decent range. She covers multiple octaves after starting wonderfully sultry on “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” and she has great enthusiasm even when presenting her overplayed “Love Song.” Arguably what the album has going for it is a great exploration of a beautiful voice that runs from contralto to mezzo-soprano. And she does present mildly different versions of some of her songs, like “Bottle It Up,” which is a little slower on this cut than the original album release.

But instrumentally, listeners are likely to be bored by both the DVD and c.d. of Between The Lines. Sara Bareilles mastered the “one woman on the piano” thing so well on Little Voice that it became tough to listen to the album repeatedly because so many of her own songs sounded like one another. The same may be said of Between The Lines, largely because she is presenting so many of the same songs. Her forays onto the guitar are entertaining, but these do not illustrate much that we haven't heard before.

Lyrically, listeners are not likely to be especially impressed with Between The Lines either. While the Sara Bareilles song Love Story hit at a time when its originality worked in its favor, it was still a fairly repetitive track. Similarly, the one original song not on Little Voice, “August Moon,” suffers in a similar way. There are only so many times the listener may stomach hearing Bareilles sing “Such a cruel, / Such a cruel heart / Such a cruel, cruel heart” around such terribly predictable rhymes as “Her eyes they shine on you / While I stay under the august moon / And I pray sleep comes soon” (“August Moon”) before they wonder why they are even bothering. After all, the best songs on Between The Lines: Live At The Fillmore are already available on Little Voice.

On the plus side, listening to this album did give me the chance to hear “Gravity” again. That song, which deserves a lot of credit for the simplicity of mood still resonates on this disc. When Bareilles delivers her lines “You loved me 'cause I'm fragile. / When I thought that I was strong. / But you touch me for a little while and all my fragile strength is gone. / Set me free, leave me be. / I don't want to fall another moment into your gravity” (“Gravity”) it is hard for the listener's heart not to break.

But even that song is not terribly different from the studio-produced version already available. In other words, Between The Lines is a bust because there's nothing significantly new and the visual element (from the DVD) is a terribly boring rehash of the same concert.

For other women at a piano, check out my reviews of:
Tidal - Fiona Apple
Wintersong - Sarah McLachlan
Many Great Companions - Dar Williams


Want to see how this stacks up against other c.d.s in the marketplace? Check out the index page here for a list of my music reviews organized from best musical work to worst!

© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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