Epic Records / Sony Music Entertainment
Release Date: May 21st 2021
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
Track Listing: [Original Album]
- Orpheus / Fire [Amidst The Chaos]
- Poetry By Dead Men [Amidst The Chaos]
- Eyes on You [Amidst The Chaos]
- I Choose You [Brave]
- Love Song [Little Voice]
- Armor [Amidst The Chaos]
- If I Can’t Have You [Amidst The Chaos]
- Miss Simone [Amidst The Chaos]
- Someone Who Loves Me [Amidst The Chaos]
- Soft Place to Land [What’s Inside: Songs From Waitress]
- You Matter to Me [What’s Inside: Songs From Waitress]
- Bad Idea [What’s Inside: Songs From Waitress]
- She Used to be Mine [What’s Inside: Songs From Waitress]
- Uncharted [Kaleidoscope Heart]
- No Such Thing / Satellite Call [Amidst The Chaos / Brave]
- Let it Rain [Kaleidoscope Heart]
- King of Anything [Kaleidoscope Heart]
- Brave [Brave]
- Orpheus [Amidst The Chaos]
- Gravity [Little Voice]
- Saint Honesty [Amidst The Chaos]
We’re in July 2021, and guess what? We’re still battling COVID-19, we’re still social distancing, here in NSW we’re in lockdown (and I dunno when that’s going to end), and through it all, music has been one of the constants for people around the world as we journey through this troubling time, seeing what has been unfolding in places around the world, as being something so unprecedented that quite possibly the time this has happened before, was the Spanish flu of 1918. 18 months ago, I don’t think anyone would’ve perceived there to be a pandemic- we in NSW were still battling bushfires in January 2020, I don’t think as a state and as a nation of Australia, we were thinking about COVID-19 at all. Alas, here we are, and I dunno if this virus is going to go away fully in the near future. So what has been the remedy during this time, were live shows (if people are in a state/province/country where live events can go ahead safely) are few and far between? Album releases of live projects- of live events artists were undertaking just prior to the world shut down- TobyMac released his ‘new’ album Live From Denver not too long ago, with the songs from his live tour back in early 2020, and now here we are with Sara Bareilles (famous right now for her musical Waitress and standout songs like ‘Brave’, ‘Unguarded’, ‘Love Song’ and ‘I Choose You’) and her unveiling of Amidst The Chaos: Live From the Hollywood Bowl. An artist that is relatively underrated in a musical game that seemingly favours pop artists like Justin Bieber, Demi Lovato, The Weeknd, Post Malone and Drake (to name a few), Sara’s music has been such a powerful, compelling joy since I wrote a blog about her impact and influence on music way back in 2019. As Sara’s music over the years has been whimsically joyful as it’s been heartfelt and confronting; her new album is as needed in a society missing live shows, as it’s needed to remind us that as unfiltered as this project is (when she’s talking between the songs, she uses a few choice words for effect), Sara’s honesty in live settings is what draws people to her raw and real songs, especially in an industry world complete with fakeness and hypocrisy.
Let me just say from the outset that this is not really a review- just on the basis that a lot of this album is basically Amidst The Chaos done live, and since I did review that album way back in late 2019, I figured I’d let that review speak for itself in terms of not only my own views for that studio album, but also views that extend to this live project as well. With 10 (out of the 12 songs on Amidst the Chaos) present here on this live 21-track project, we see Sara’s latest studio album brought to life- her latest studio album is one full of rejuvenation and a sense of purpose and intentionality as Sara herself admits that in the process of completing this album, it’s been a lot freer in exploring the production side of things, than in albums gone past. And as we look through the songs, we can see a few standouts- ‘Armour’ is a female empowerment song that was written in response to what can be seen and viewed of what is happening to women at the moment, while ‘Fire’ is a song of lament of the end of a relationship and using the metaphors of fire and cold as to symbolise the beginning (and middle) of a relationship as opposed to the end. ‘Poetry By Dead Men’ and ‘Saint Honesty’ also solidify Amidst The Chaos lyrically as Sara continues to tread the line between relevant reflective pop and radio friendly material that can relate to the everyday person that only listens to radio- the former about hoping against hope that the person you are longing to be with returns their affections, so that you are not stuck with all the ‘poetry by dead men’, while the latter is a reminder for each of us to hold dear and value honesty- be it calming or ugly, honesty is what will create authenticity and respect amongst people who may have differing views or opinion. Sara’s music has heart and soul, and emotion and everything you need to evoke responses from people, rather than just nodding your head and saying that ‘it’s a good song’, and then carrying on your merry way. For songs weren’t really meant to just make us feel good. We have songs (or shall I say just big beats) in the clubs for that. No really, songs mean something to people, and Sara’s music, at least songs in Amidst The Chaos, talks of the struggle, and humans trying to waddle through it. And that’s ok, that at times we can’t just walk through the struggles, but rather only waddle. There’s a time where we do in fact need to sit in our worry and troubles, and wrestle with it a little. Wrestle with our families, with our own thoughts, even with God. And that is ok, and very much encouraged.
Along with her material from Amidst the Chaos on this live album, Sara invites us all to partake in a few of her sizeable hits throughout the years- ‘Love Song’ is a passive-aggressive response to what radio executives wanted from her at the time- a love song written by her as being her first single ever- sure, the song is called ‘Love Song’, but the message is totally different, where the persona is stating that the only reason they are to write a love song, is out of free will and because they want to, rather than any other reason. ‘I Choose You’, one of my own personal highlights from The Blessed Unrest, is present here on this live project, and is a song about love and marriage, and about constantly making a choice to choose this person again and again everyday, while ‘Brave’, also from The Blessed Unrest, is again a standout here on this live album, and is such a melody that allows people to be brave in whatever they accomplish, to be brave in being vulnerable, to showcase a side of themselves that they may be ashamed of. To share ourselves in bravery, is to know that we are in the presence of people that are going to love us for as we are, never judging but always journeying alongside us and being a reminder of what the love of Christ should look like to us, even if we are people who may or may not believe in Christianity as a whole. ‘Uncharted’, from Sara’s 2010 album Kaleidoscope Heart, is delivered with earnest passion and fervent emotion here on Amidst the Chaos: Live From the Hollywood Bowl, as Sara passes the microphone to the crowd mid-way through the track, and the crowd in all their passionate enthsuasm sings about half the song. The song itself delves into this notion of going out into the unknown not knowing, but with full expectation and a sense of excitement and wonder, while ‘Gravity’, from Sara’s debut album Little Voice, is a song personal to Sara herself, about a toxic on-again-off-again relationship with a high school sweetheart that was ultimately no good for her- ‘Gravity’ is Sara’s own attempt to make sense of the relationship, as with so many toxic relationships in a general sense, it can take a while for the toxicity in it to dissipate and for the person being abused, to find courage to leave.
‘King of Anything’, also on Kaleidoscope Heart, is present on this live project, and while the song itself can seem on the surface like a standoff track, it’s still one of the most confronting that Sara has done, and thus, a track we all need to sit up and take notice of, as we can learn a lot from such a song as this. The song is about not asking for any assistance or help from someone who seems to be sharing their point of view in an over-the-top way, I am reminded of many fundamentalists (especially of the Christian variety) and how they want to argue their way to ‘saving’ someone. For me as a practicing Christian, I am always on guard as how to approach my own faith in a marketplace of people who may look down on religion and faith in any way. What ‘King of Anything’ has reminded me of is the fact that people don’t want to be lectured to and preached at. They themselves don’t want it, when people tell them they’re doing something wrong- their parents and other disapproving people do that anyway. What is needed in situations is to just do life with the person, to love them where they’re at, and then after years of cultivating such relationships, then one has the authority to say anything relating to that person’s life, and then they can speak whatever they feel like into the person’s life, because they’ve earnt that respect. ‘King of Anything’ reminds us that it is not in our authority that we declare the things with do, but it is in God’s. Needless to say, we ought not to go gun-ho into any situation- but rather, be tactful and shrewd, smart, and wise about what to say and what to refrain from saying. Sara has hopefully allowed us all to take a step back and to realise that sometimes, hell-fire-and-brimstone is not the answer, but to live life the way Christ did- with love at the forefront and healthy dialogue and an openness to view things from a different perspective.
Quite possibly one of the most important albums Sara has contributed to in her career is the album What’s Inside: Songs From Waitress– a collection of 12 songs, of which are part of a musical called Waitress (based off the 2007 movie starring Keri Russell as the lead character). Even though Sara wasn’t really involved in the writing of the musical, she did however write the music and lyrics to all these songs featured on this 2015 album; and played the lead female role (played in the movie by Keri Russell) when the stage production toured it’s first run across America. What has transpired from Waitress the musical and What’s Inside is this- we are met with vulnerable songs and heartfelt melodies that make me appreciate the musical genre a whole lot more than I myself already do. The songs that accompany the musical are stellar and heartfelt, songs that evoke emotion and remind us about the struggles that can be faced in abusive relationships, growing up into people we don’t want to be, but haven’t realised how we get back to a place of innocence, from where we are right now. Four songs from the 2015 album are present on Amidst the Chaos: Live From the Hollywood Bowl– well known tracks ‘She Used To Be Mine’ and ‘You Matter To Me’, coupled with lesser-known tracks ‘Soft Place to Land’, and ‘Bad Idea’- ‘She Used to Be Mine’ is arguably the song that people would associate with Sara if ever there is one song that people can attribute to Sara and her music- and with words and lyrics like this, how can we not love this song, one of lament and loss, but one full of hope and looking ahead as well? ‘She Used to Be Mine’ depicts all the emotions well of someone struggling free of an abusive relationship, and worrying about her child in the process of trying to escape, while ‘You Matter to Me’ (originally a duet with fellow singer-songwriter/folk singer Jason Mraz) reminds us all that we as people matter, to someone somewhere, and that what we say and do, our character, matter to the people around us, even if we don’t believe it at a certain moment. Sara also showcases both ‘Soft Place to Land’ and ‘Bad Idea’ on this life project- both songs for the musical Waitress, and both songs that aren’t as popular in the mainstream, which is ok. ‘Soft Place to Land’ is a reminder that when facing a difficult reality, a dream can be a place of solace, hope, anticipation and comfort as we seek to make what we want in life, a reality, while ‘Bad Idea’ is a song that speaks about how the persona of the musical (and the movie before that) tries to rationalise in her head, her attraction to someone who isn’t her husband- someone who isn’t abusive, but rather caring, honest, and appreciative. While it is to note, that I would never advocate for cheating, I would say that this track, as quirky and unfortunate as it is, still reminds us that we need to cultivate relationships and work hard at them; before it gets to the state that is portrayed by the personas in ‘Bad Idea’.
Amidst the Chaos: Live From the Hollywood Bowl is an album full of lyrical gems of honesty and calls to action, and maybe, just maybe, not really an album to start off with if you are new to Sara and her music- I recommend albums like Little Voice and Kaleidoscope Heart if you want to see what Sara’s music is about. But having said that, her new live album is a surprise- in a good way. With standout tracks like ‘Brave’, ‘I Choose You’, ‘She Used to Be Mine’ and ‘Saint Honesty’, this album is a must, if you’ve enjoyed a lot of Sara’s music prior. But who am I to say? Check out her new album; and give it a run through from start to finish- at least once. Who knows, maybe this album can be the catalyst for hopeful positive change, especially during a time of COVID-19 where hope is needed all the more. Well done Sara for this live album and all it represents. Now time to listen to another mainstream artist in H.E.R., and let’s see what God is trying to say through her music, shall we?
4 songs to listen to: She Used to Be Mine, Brave, I Choose You, King of Anything
RIYL: Sara Groves, Brooke Fraser, Norah Jones, Sarah McLachlan, JJ Heller, Lara Landon