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Sarah Donner - Black Hole Heart (2016)

Written by Daniel Boyer, posted by blog admin

Sarah Donner’s twelve song collection Black Hole Heart stands as the latest peak in this New Jersey based songwriter’s continuing musical journey. Donner’s unique mix of beautifully melodic vocals, folk, pop, and singer/songwriter tendencies comes together in an acoustic package with songs never threatening to tax listener’s patience with over-indulgence. She keeps everything focused and emphasizes a melody first approach, but these are songs are distinguished by top shelf lyrical content intelligently straddling a line between performed poetry and well-worded yet conversational lines. She works with a relatively small cast of supporting musicians and some key guest stars make their presence felt on a couple of the album’s later tracks. Black Hole Heart is rife with personal touches, universal themes and emotions capable of striking a chord with wide audiences, and a surprising sense of musical daring on even the most conventional numbers. The spark of something special burns bright in these songs.

“Phoenix” begins Black Hole Heart and it’s easy to hear why. The accompanying video for this song is quite strong but the song stands quite fine on its own thanks to a seamless marriage between voice, lyric, and music, a well-observed running time, and a superior vocal performance from Donner. The title song is likely one of the more commercial moments on the album for most listeners but that shouldn’t imply any cheapening of Donner’s approach. It’s all about the song’s build and how the tension is so artfully threaded into the arrangement and never threatens to overwhelm listeners. Her acoustic guitar attack on “Florida” is a critical factor in the success of that song, but the domestic strife depicted so unflinchingly in the lyrics benefits from her evocative and incongruously gentle vocal treatment. “Tamsen Donner 1847” comes from a more traditional folk song point of view and her facility with this style is obvious. The song is structured in the style of a letter or diary entries. We sense early on, based on historical knowledge as well, that the song won’t end well for its subject and Donner handles this denouement with all the artfulness you might expect.

The trumpet and organ making an appearance on “The Flood” helps add color and musical entertainment to an otherwise challenging song lyrically. Donner certainly sings it with genuine fearlessness and gets deep into the lyric for an ultimately spellbinding effect on listeners. Piano and vocals alone basically carry the musical day in Donner’s performance of the song “Big Big Heart” and her singing certainly scales rather impressive emotional heights without ever becoming too over-wrought. Guest vocalist Michael McLean brings a different voice to the proceedings with his contributions on the song “All The Things” and it makes for one of the more sensitively rendered entries on Black Hole Heart. The album concludes with the song “Sol 549” and the mournful, elegiac note she strikes with this song, her vocal treated with some light post-production effects, never cancels out the delicate and abiding love percolating through the song. Black Hole Heart is successful for a host of reasons, but the naked vulnerability and honesty that Donner brings to her performances is a key reason why and sets this apart from a host of releases in this style.


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