enviable pop songwriting

Sarah Masen (re:think records)
Sarah Masen

By Victoria Moon

WARNING!!! THIS IS AN INCREDIBLY BIASED REVIEW!!!!

Anyone expecting objectivity on the subject of Sarah Masen should probably look somewhere else, because I am an unabashed, huge fan of this 20-year-old singer/songwriter from Detroit. (That is, I am an unabashed, huge fan when I'm not fuming in jealousy that someone so young can write such great songs!) Masen is beyond a doubt one of producer Charlie Peacock's best finds for his new label, re:think. Her vocal stylings are occasionally reminiscent of a less-annoying Jewel, occasionally hint at Shawn Colvin, but are hard to completely categorize because they are so original. Besides her unusual vocals and ability to write a highly singable pop song, Masen can also write intelligent, introspective lyrics with the best of 'em. She wrote every song on the album with the exception of a cover of Victoria Williams' "Love." Her music is a definite reflection of her influences -- Mark Heard, Sam/Leslie Phillips, Keith Green and Rich Mullins -- but she is able to mold their raw materials into something wholly her own.

Her self-titled first recording begins with the infectious pop of "All Fall Down", a stream-of-consciousness take on one of John Donne's Holy Sonnets. This is followed by the reflective, sweet "Break Hard the Wishbone," which shows off the range of Masen's voice against a funky, understated backbeat. Her cover of "Love" surprised me for a minute, taking William's quirky, folky, innocent song and mixing up its sweet innocence with some dissonant jazz chords and a modern pop feel. "Downtown" is one of my favorite songs on the project, an intimate prayer framed by more of Masen's signature pop stylings. "Kissing Tree" is as Masen explains, "a song about kissing". Obvious, but a refreshing shock in the often stale but saintly world of CCM where our humanness is too infrequently celebrated. The album finishes with "Fly Baby", a slow-moving, thick song that seems to sum up the themes of this album with the words "I will not embrace indifference/Nor will I stop when we're almost there/And I will run with all my might/Run until we fall/Run until we crash/Run until we fly/Run until we die".

A mix of melancholy with whimsy, hope with laughter, innocence with a healthy dose of reality, Sarah Masen has produced the seemingly impossible: heady, listenable modern pop rife with intelligent lyrics, artistry and integrity.