I've often believed that Sarah Slean occupied a void that Tori Amos once left, ever since Amos went the way of 'Adult Contemporary' music. Those Tori trademarks - a lone female voice, a piano up front and center, and interesting lyrics - are all replicated by Slean, though to be honest her songwriting is far more direct and relatable than a lot of Amos' output. Those comparisons aside, Slean is also far and away the frontrunner when it comes to female singer-songwriters these days, and its a pity that this Canadian songstress hasn't crossed over to any part of the world. Her success is very local, despite a catalog of some truly groundbreaking albums.
Even within Slean's own fan community, opinion about this album is divided, only because its slower, more plodding, and far more introspective than any of her earlier works. While many reviewers have called the songs 'same-sounding', this is in fact untrue. The tracks here are definitely not upbeat or happy tunes, but their effectiveness is enhanced through their icy, solitudinal quality - something that is present throughout the entire record.
Highlights are many - especially the beautiful "Sound of Water" (a personal favorite) and the addictive "Willow". This is certainly one of those albums that grows in stature and importance every time you play it - the repeat value here is astounding, and the songwriting is impeccable - perhaps a little too simplistic at times, but nevertheless really lovely. Her earlier release, "Day One" was more 'dramatic', but this record finds Sarah in a regal and contemplative mood, and the results are stunning.
Music completists would like to note that Sarah Slean recorded an album right after this one entitled "The Baroness Redecorates" - it was a collection of B-Sides and extras from "The Baroness" sessions that she thought were important. For the record, that EP remains the best work Slean has ever recorded or released. The vibe of it resonates closely with the album title, and classic symphonies swirl amidst a sea of violins, strings, and Rachmaninoff-like melodies - its a 'classic' album in the truest sense of the word - only marginally related to pop music. I'd urge all listeners to track down that highly rare and sought-after EP - its running time however, is as long as this albums'. "The Baroness Redecorates" should have definitely been included with this album here, but it isn't.
Finally, Sarah Slean remains in a league of her own. If thoughtful, tuneful and gorgeous chamber-pop music with a classical edge is what you are looking for, this is it. She is intelligent beyond her years, and her music is low key and lush - this is exactly the sort of music that sophisticated indie-music lovers should pick up - its without a doubt essential listening.
Four and a Half Stars. Try to track down the out of print follow-up EP "The Baroness Redecorates" - its vital. I'm including the track listing for both CDs even though the latter is not available on Amazon (or anywhere else anymore, sadly).
Tracklisting for "The Baroness":
1. Hopeful Hearts
2. Get Home
4. Goodnight Trouble
5. Notes from the Underground
6. Sound of Water
7. No Place at All
8. Please Be Good to Me
10. So Many Miles
12. Looking for Someone
Tracklisting for "The Baroness Redecorates":
2. Lonely Side of the Moon
3. Modern Man I & II
5. The Rose
6. Hear Me Out
7. The "Disarm" Suite