After recording one of the highest selling indie albums in recent years, Sara Groves entertained a number of offers from large companies. Instead of giving in to the image-making machine, she opted to partner with a company that would allow her to develop her artistic voice. The result is Conversations, an album that grows on me with each listen and one which my wife plays constantly. Musically Sara describes herself as "neo-folk/pop" and there is definitely a folk sensibility to her music with some nice pop hooks that go along nicely with the acoustic serenity that accompanies her Joni Mitchell-like vocals. Shades of Sarah McLachlan and Shawn Colvin are also apparent in her music but Sara's lyrics are where she sets herself apart. Brazenly honest, thought provoking, deeply spiritual and introspective, Conversations allows the listener to eves-drop on Sara's prayers, dreams, and discussions with others. The sobering "What Do I Know?" finds an eighty-eight year old friend of Groves sharing that despite a life of faith, she is afraid to die. A piano and string quartet provide a sparse background to this stark tale that ends with unexpected hope. In contrast, "Pictures of Egypt" employs a full band with Groves being kicked out of the nest of security with lines such as "The future feels so hard and I want to go back / The places that used to fit me / Cannot hold the things I've learned." "The Journey Is My Own" finds Groves looking back on the changes in her life with some emotive, cathartic melodies and a song that grows and develops as one suspects does the experience of the singer. The track which seems to capture her personality the best is the final track which features Sara alone on the piano with a swinging, rolling melody, recorded live. While definitely not for everyone, folk and pop-folk fans would definitely enjoy the tantalizing melodies and powerful yet vulnerable, introspective lyrics. Sara Groves is the real deal: an honest musician and (dare I say it?) poet who is more interested in expressing herself and making music than making a buck.
This review first appeared in WhatzUp, May 2001.