Street Sounds: Bareilles delivers vocal tour de force

Sara Bareilles puts some bop into her empire state of mind on The Blessed Unrest, her fourth album.

New York piano-pop artist Sara Bareilles puts some bop into her empire state of mind on The Blessed Unrest, her fourth album.

While there’s a certain urban backdrop to Bareilles’ songs (Chasing the Sun, Manhattan), the deceptively big-voiced singer/songwriter lets the sunshine in, brightly.

Although the lead-off track, Brave, has all the obvious hallmarks of a single, it’s soaring vocal hook has a deep message, a come-on-out-of-the-closet hit.

Other tracks on this vocal tour de force of an album are pop-smart love songs that hide their lyrical and musical integrity tastefully.

It’s a recording that reveals more surprises than a first listens will allow.

Bareilles’ songs have an evocative pull and the least radio friendly tracks are the dark horses here.  Satellite Call is drenched in a backward-echo vocal that has restrained emotional weight – it’s an ethereal anthem. It shines darkly against other material, almost making the cleverly written lonely girl track, Little Black Dress, seem trite, which it isn’t.

These tracks and Cassiopeia clue a listener into Bareilles’ natural gifts as a vocalist: she’s strong and clear and her sound is forceful but inviting.  It’s her interpretive sense of singing off of and against herself that’s unique.

She creates phrases and hooks that act independently as another instrument, free of the singer sensibility. This talent gives songs like Cassiopeia, Satellite Call and Islands another presence that elevates the music higher.

The music on The Blessed Unrest is approachable and almost familiar, but never ordinary.

Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon-based musician who writes about the latest recordings in Street Sounds, every Friday in The Morning Star.