Photo Courtesy: Josette Chen
It was a warm Cinco de Mayo evening and the Granada Theater in Lower Greenville was sold out. Less than two weeks since she dropped her latest LP, Sarah Jaffe’s The Body Wins was generating a buzz and you could feel the anticipation in the crowd. Why was this different than any other performance by one of the city’s favorite artists? It’s because this record is unlike any other she’s released.
When Bob Dylan put down the acoustic guitar in favor of an electric, many of his devoted fans were not happy. That appears to be anything but the case with Ms. Jaffe, whose loyal following showed their appreciation for her new direction. Last year there were hints that she was broadening her musical horizons. The DVD/EP combo The Way Sound Leaves a Room included film of her live performance at Wyly Theatre in February 2010; as well as some demos of new songs she worked on at home (and played all the instruments on). There was also a couple of cover songs she had help with, one of which was a surprise hit “Shut it Down” by Drake.
John Congleton, who also produced her first LP, Suburban Nature, had a bigger challenge this time around. Although all songs were written and composed by Jaffe, the orchestral arrangements were written, arranged and conducted by Fiona Brice, who also played first violin on a number of tracks. It’s good to see Jaffe’s core musicians intact. The great Becki Howard played second violin and the versatile Scott Danbom played piano and synth. Guitarist extraordinaire Robert Gomez lent his talent, as did drummer Jeff Ryan. What must have been most challenging for Congleton was introducing horns into the mix. The first notes on the title track came as a bit of a surprise to me, but by the second verse it all made sense. The complexity of the arrangements would be tough to reproduce live without having full strings and horn sections; so I was not surprised when they weren’t there Saturday night. We can only hope for a performance with a full orchestra someday, perhaps at the Wyly Theatre again (hint, hint)?
The first single, “Glorified High” speaks to the reasons one uses to experiment with drugs, including boredom and the need for a story. While the song may make excuses, in the end it doesn’t advocate the behavior. It paints it as a futile undertaking you keep asking yourself why you continue with. My favorite songs on the record are “Halfway Right,” “Mannequin Woman” and “Hooray For Love,” although “Sucker For Your Marketing” has been a favorite of mine for a while. These songs really show Sarah’s chops. Her vocals have always been strong, but they seem to have a new maturity about them – one that undoubtedly comes with experience. That experience surfaced Saturday night when she did an a cappella version of the aforementioned “Shut it Down.” That song is not an easy song to sing and it takes real guts to pull it off by yourself.
If you’re on Facebook you can see how Jaffe cares for her fans. The night her new record was released, she mentioned that she’d be DJ’ing at the Doublewide, a cozy little bar in Deep Ellum and that we were all welcome to join her. While she may sport a more modern, avant-garde image now than when we first met her, it’s nice to know she’s still the same nice person who always has time for an autograph or photo. Despite having the opportunity to spin her new record, instead she took requests all night – everything from
Drake to New Order to Patsy Kline. It just goes to show that great artists can appreciate
many genres. I think we’re all glad that Dylan went electric, as the times were truly changing. I think we can also be glad that Sarah Jaffe has gone electric too, and that
times haven’t changed all that much.