When I first heard Sari Brown’s “Blue Ribbon,” I thought it was a cover. Not that I assumed this young performer wasn’t capable of writing such a good song; it just was so catchy I was sure I’d heard it before. Several of Brown’s compositions on her 2009 CD, Color Suite, are like that. “Lesley” is an upbeat, playful number, performed on the ukulele, with a chorus that had me singing along by the third repeat. And “Brown Sandstone” runs from sweet to dramatic with the best line of the album: “It sucks to know you want to be a woman / When you’re starting all over like a kid.”
At twenty-two, Sari Brown is somewhere between a woman and a kid, and her creative output straddles the divide beautifully. She’s been writing folksy music since fourteen, recorded her first album at sixteen, and has been performing live all that time. Her experience shows in her stage presence–comfortable and confident–while her youth comes through in a charming giggle and too much talk about the next tune.
Color Suite, her second album, is similarly a mix of mature skill and overwrought analysis. It’s a concept album in multiple layers. Every song but “Lesley” contains a color in the title, and the CD package includes a lengthy booklet of original writings by Brown. These are organized according to the song titles, but they are not the lyrics; instead, you get poems, letters, short stories, and folk tales, some of which illuminate the lyrics (which can be found at saribrown.com). Frankly, it’s a bit much. But it comes together as an impressive work of multimedia art.
Brown’s writing is graced with the keen observations of someone who likes to take pictures and study the grass. And while most songs are about love, they aren’t all love songs. She explores many kinds of love and relationships, more deeply than would seem possible at this early stage of life.
Brown is the daughter of musicians–her father, Doug Brown, often plays keyboard at her gigs–and her natural talent for melody is obvious. But she seems to write for a voice that is lower than her natural range. She wishes she had a throaty, growly, gospel voice, but on the rare moments when she finds her lighter, higher head voice, she also finds the pitch and volume more easily. The lower range, and the resulting low orchestration for her band, muddied her live performance and obscured her worthy lyrics. Perhaps a vocal coach could open up new songwriting possibilities for her. I’m sure I’m not the only admirer who looks forward to watching Sari Brown grow.
It will come as no surprise to hear that Brown attends a tiny, experimental liberal arts college in Vermont. But she’s coming home to Ann Arbor in December and will be performing at Crazy Wisdom Tea Room on Saturday, December 19.