Sara Syms “The Darkest Light”

Independent, 2022

Fine vocals and heartfelt songs from New Orleans-based Syms.

From the opening bars of the first track –the title track ‘The Darkest Light’–it’s clear we’re listening to a class act. Recorded in New Orleans Esplanade Studios, the album is Syms’s return to recording after a break during which she battled struggles with depression and anxiety, and the lyrical themes reflect this era in her life, following her 2013 solo album ‘Fade to Blue’ and stints fronting bands Key Party and Dirty Water.

Syms has a clear, sweet voice, and allied with top-notch arrangements and production by Ari Teitel, and with support from members of Sweet Crude, Snarky Puppy, Cha Wa, The Dirty Dozen, and Naughty Professor, each track shines, with a variety of influences evident, but always led by Syms’s vocals, firmly at the front of the mix. Jazz, blues, soul, and gospel influences are evident, together with piano-led singer-songwriter stylings.

Lyrics are reflective and thoughtful throughout, as on the title track, where Syms sings “I dare you/look inside your heart/prepare to/ look inside your soul”, against an insistent piano, with strings building as the song moves to its climax. On ‘World We Live In’ piano and keys are at the fore as Syms sings  “you tricked my mind into a pleasant place/I know what’s right from what’s wrong/but still I fall to that same old space/and the answers all along/is this the world /is this the world we’re living in/is this the world/is this the world we’re living in” with atmospheric trumpet added to the arrangement.

‘Good Times Never Last’ has an air of sad resignation, and perhaps Syms’s finest vocal on the album, “Loving you is all I’ve ever known/ missing you/I’m here on my own/wishing we could just start over/reinvent the past/only for the moment/good times never last” over an arpeggiated piano-led arrangement, with slide guitar.

The New Orleans influence is strongest on ‘River of Life’, with its jaunty pace, spirited shuffle feel, and prominent trumpet and trombone, and ‘The Game’, with the feel of a live recording in a smokey speakeasy.

In contrast, ‘Fear and Love’ features soft percussion and electric guitar behind Syms’s vocal, as she sings “on the other side of fear is love”, while on ‘Where Do I Belong’ the track is driven by its shuffle beat and Hammond-esque keys, with its repeated title refrain.

Slow tempo ‘Unknown Road’ strikes a different tone, with distorted electric guitar prominent, while ‘Shadow Hunters’ features arpeggiated electric guitar and plucked strings, with an unsettling feel, against its repeated title refrain.

An impressive and memorable set driven by Syms’s fine vocals.

8/10
8/10

About David Jarman 80 Articles
Long time fan of Americana genre, from early days of Ry Cooder, through to today's thriving scene. Regular visitor to USA ( Nashville/Austin/Memphis/LA ) live music junkie, I play guitar, mandolin, harmonica, plus vocals, run monthly jam session in Broadstairs

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