Much of how a musician is respected (and compensated) has swung back toward the live performance. Recorded music as an industry is dying, goes the theory, and thus live is where your bones (and money) are made. Plus, anyone with a Mac and GarageBand can record a good-sounding album, right?
NOT STANDING STILL Sara Hallie Richardson comes out singing in her second album.
Not at all. And sometimes we must respect what a single artist can do in creating a piece of work that is unlikely to be reproduced live. Such as the production of Sara Hallie Richardson, who, as evidenced by the live album she released last year, is perfectly charming when accompanied by a guitar or two, but can be downright thrilling on her recorded works.
Her second effort, the six-song Restless, was released much earlier this year, but she celebrates it with a show this weekend and it has become no less impressive with six months of repeated listens. As with her debut, A Curious Paradox, Richardson combines an icy and ethereal lead vocal with sometimes driving backbeats and digital programming, vocal effects, plus a guitar or other instrument here and there. This sophomore effort, though, is a less whimsical and more weighty and substantive work.
"What Would It Be Like" is downright sultry, a suggestive come-on that's wrapped in neither guilt or desperation, but rather a sort of primal curiosity. Even as it appears to be about turn of the century Parisian composer Erik Satie: "You call yourself a phonometrician/You measured sound romantically/You were a technical musician/Minimalism in the 20th century." (Google it.) It's gorgeous, arresting, and capable of staying with you for days.
Richardson is fond of the semi-narrative, and does it well. "Rita," crafted simply from finger-picked guitar and piano, is an ode to a wizened old woman she might hope to be someday. The central lesson, "don't fear the difficult moments/The best comes from them," is delivered in an impossibly knowing descending arc that finishes in a gospel-style hum. The bleed into a dark angelic chorus of Richardsons keeps out all potential for sap.
Whatever you call this talent for creating beds of welcoming sound, songwriting or artful production, Richardson has it, and her lyrics are just as thoughtful. It's a truly lovely thing she's packaged. I'd encourage you to unwrap it.
RESTLESS | Released by Sara Hallie Richardson | at One Longfellow Square, in Portland | Aug 17 | shrichardson.bandcamp.com/album/restless