I was first introduced to Sara Hallie Richardson‘s music in 2009. She was based in Portland, Maine, which is a pretty cute city; you oughta visit. Michael Flannery had opened a studio in downtown Bangor. He produced an album called A Curious Paradox for Sarah and sent me a copy when they were done with it. Mike figured that I’d like it, and he was right.
Most of the time, when I get an album in the mail, the sender wants me to write about it. That wasn’t Mike’s intention. Although he’s essentially a pop-funk guy who looks at Prince as his primary role model, Mike is good at matching up people who are, if you’ll pardon my loaded and dated term, a little bit twee. (For instance, Mike introduced me to Ula Bloom, who did the first nine illustrations on this site; this week’s picture comes courtesy of Kyle McRuer.) Now, this is probably not fair to say about Sara, who has, as I’ve learned, many musical modes. But when I heard her sing, all I wanted to do was start a tweepop band and plunk her down right in the middle of it.
We were making Let The Night Fall at the time. Most of my lead vocals were already done, and we’d already added two of my favorite singers — Amy Jacob from Prosolar Mechanics and Angela Lane Hamilton — to the tracks. But I knew, immediately, that I needed to make room for Sara. She’d moved to New York City to support A Curious Paradox, so we brought her into Melody Lanes to sing on some of our songs. To say that she sprinkled a little sugar on the album would be an understatement. Suddenly it wasn’t just my voice coming at the listener like a rusted bicycle with a creaky chain — there was also this very warm and smart and empathetic character underscoring the words I’d written. Sara bestowed legitimacy and depth on my storytelling. Her performances are part of the reason I’m proud of Let The Night Fall.
If it had been 1999 and I’d been thinking of nothing but music, I would have insisted that we start that band. Archie Moore and Sarah Shannon, Robert Wratten and Beth Arzy, Sarah Martin and Stuart Murdoch — every great cupcake-pop act I’ve ever wanted to emulate had that boy-girl dynamic upfront with the girl doing her best to redeem the boy for the unforgivable sin of being a boy. But as you probably know, we never did right by Let The Night Fall, and that was entirely my fault. I got preoccupied with other things, and I do hope you enjoyed those other things at least half as much as I did. Sara made a couple more excellent records and relocated to Los Angeles; Phoenix, her most recent album, is much too sophisticated to be twee. She’s definitely outgrown the role I would have cast her in, so good on her for escaping my clutches.
But just like a tractor beam that can’t be disabled by Obi Kenobi, I have a funny way of drawing unwary space travelers back to the Death Star. Or Jay Braun does, anyway — it was Jay who tracked down Sara in Los Angeles via a strange modern miracle called social networking. Don’t ask me; I know nothing about it. Jay, who has been listening to 2112 and Appetite For Destruction lately, has no appetite for cupcake pop and tends to give me the side-eye when I bring up Belle & Sebastian in the studio, which happens every five minutes or so. But he knows what I want, and more to the point, he loves Sara’s music as much as I do. When Jay decided that my attempts to sing “You Can Meet Me There” weren’t cutting it by my own twee standards, he prevailed on Sara Hallie Richardson to give it a try.
Long story short: you’re never going to get to hear the version with my voice on it, because Sara transformed the song, liberated it really, and made it into what I always wanted it to be. If you don’t like it, it’s still my fault and not hers, because I was the arrested adolescent who encouraged her to take it over to the cupcake bakery. But if you don’t like it, you probably don’t like Trembling Blue Stars, either, so you’ve got a different idea of romance from mine: more grown-up, less frosting. In keeping with the perversity that runs through the TBS catalog like a black ribbon, I’ve paired this coy valentine of a song with the most brutal story on the site so far. They just go together, like Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan.