For those of you that may not be familiar with the name, Sarah Slean is one of Canada’s finest singer/songwriters and surely one of the most enchanting. Blending an old-world, Vaudeville sensibility with modern pop-rock, Slean has produced several noteworthy albums in the last 10 years, each of which I personally wouldn’t hesitate to call a masterpiece.
Throughout her career one might note that there has often been a very obvious line dividing her individual songs; her back catalogue ranges between the more upbeat, pop inspired (often firey and bold) tracks and those that are more melancholy, romantic and classically inspired. Her latest release, a double disc entitled “Land & Sea” explores this duality in her previous work with more self-awareness than ever.
Enlisting the help of two separate producers, Slean made two very different albums. Disc one, entitled “Land” explores the more “pop” side of Slean, features lots of hooks and positive lyrics and was produced by Halifax, Nova Scotia’s own: Joel Plaskett. “Sea” is lush, slow, equal parts dreamy/romantic and heartbreaking; it features a 21-piece orchestra and was produced by Jonathan Goldsmith. The double disc opus was released on September 27th, 2011 and Slean is currently promoting the release with a cross-Canada tour.
In the second of two sold-out shows, Slean performed at The Carleton Music Bar & Lounge on Argyle Street in Halifax, NS on December 5th, 2011. After seeing her live several years ago when she was promoting her last album: The Baroness, I wouldn’t have missed this gig for the world and I’m happy to say that neither I, nor The Pop Gods were disappointed!
Slean’s shows are FLAWLESS, both vocally and musically. Her voice makes the heart soar and every note is pitch perfect. Between songs, her banter varies from humourous and quirky to wistful and romantic. Accompanied by friend and Producer/Songwriter: Karen Kosowski and “Steve” (a drum machine) the two ladies powered through an intimate and emotionally intense set spanning Slean’s entire career but more than well-representing her latest effort.
Despite this entire show being flawless, and everyone seeming to enjoy it, it seemed the Monday night crowd was a little bit reserved. This revealed itself early on with the opening act, Montreal’s Ian Kelly. I found his set of sweet, heartfelt folk music to be rather endearing and I’m looking forward to hearing more from him but while cordial, the crowd never went particularly apesh*t for him and this friendly ease seemed to continue throughout the entire evening. Maybe it was the wine!
Here are my track by track thoughts of the set, from what was probably the WORST seat in the club. At the bar, trying to see over the wait staff! (Yup, I still had an amazing time!):
Setlist – Sarah Slean @ The Carleton, Halifax (12/5/2011)
**With my commentary…
- Life (From “Land”, 2011)
**Fantastic opening number!!
- Duncan (From “Night Bugs”, 2002)
- Notes from the Underground (from “The Baroness”, 2008)
**Beautiful on record, but UN-F**KING-BELIEVEABLE live. Slean’s live arrangements very often blow the studio recordings away. I do, however, LOVE my slow jams.
- Get Home (from “The Baroness”, 2008)
** “An exorcism… For the assholes in your life.. “
Sarah takes us through a coming of age journey between numbers and reveals that the songs until now were dealing with “twenties problems” and now we’re approaching our “thirties awakening”, when we realize how much baggage we’ve been carrying. Her advice?…
- Set it Free (From “Land”, 2011)
**This performance was PURE JOY! A gift from The Pop Gods!
- I Am A Light (from “Land”, 2011)
**Like many of the songs on “Land” this song just makes you FEEL GOOD. Wonderful!
- The Right Words (from “Sea”, 2011)
**BREATHTAKING!! I was wiping the tears from my eyes on my sleeve!!
- Everything by the Gallon (from “Sea”, 2011)
Upon finishing this song, Slean sips some water and stretches her fingers and neck. You could hear her quietly talking slightly off from the mic. I ever so softly heard the words “wants to play itself again and so, I submit!” before she exploded into an ELECTRIFYING rendition of…
- Pilgrim (from “Day One”, 2004)
**Seriously, the way she was singing and playing this song, it was like she was posessed. ThePopGods had me on standby for an exorcism but luckily she came out of it.
And the crowd finally erupts in enthusiastic applause!!!
- The Rose (from “The Baroness Redecorates”, 2008)
- My Eyes & Your Eyes (from “Sea”, 2011)
**Introduced with a description of a beautiful chance meeting beneath the moon on a balcony in Paris, this song is one of the most romantic things I have ever heard.
- Euphoria (from “The Baroness”, 2008)
One of my favorite Slean tracks! Sounded fantastic!
- The Day We Saved The World (from “Land”, 2011)
- Please Be Good To Me (from “The Baroness”, 2008)
**Slean opened this song by saying she truly thinks Dolly Parton should record it. It’s actually totally compatible, methinks.
- Society Song (from “Land”, 2011)
**So, to continue the ongoing theme of the evening: Slean calls out the slightly sedated crowd and asks for some audience participation, We shyly comply. Despite the lack of follow-through from us, this is a GREAT number. Fantastic energy!
- Girls Hating Girls (from “Land”, 2011)
- California (from “Day One”, 2004)
**My absolute favorite Slean record, I was SO ELATED when I recognized the opening notes. I could tell from the reaction in the crowd that I’m not alone in my adoration for this song. Slean’s live performance of this song is heartbreaking and gorgeous and I never want it to end. We pray to The Pop Gods..
- Attention Archers (from “Sea”, 2011)
**The ballads from “Sea” are all so amazing it’s really rather impossible to put into words. This was yet another highlight of the night. Gorgeous!
- Sweet Ones (From “Night Bugs”, 2002)
**The crowd stood, at last awoken from their collective wine-and-ambience-induced coma to applaud the beautiful young lady who had just laid her heart and soul out in song for all of us.
As I was paying my bill and fetching my coat, I saw her emerge to greet and thank people for coming. I was standing about 5 feet away, and wanted to say hello but I felt surprisinly starstruck and shied away. Perhaps she or her people will stumble upon this review and appreciate how much I appreciated and enjoyed the show.
Slean returns to Halifax to perform with Symphony Nova Scotia on Friday, April 13th, 2012. Once again, I wouldn’t miss it for the world!
In case I wasn’t clear in my praise, Sarah Slean’s 12/5/2011 performance at The Carleton in Halifax, NS was…