Sara Bareilles has kept us all guessing a lot in the last decade, continuing to surprise us as she ventures into uncharted territory time and time again. She’s expanded from pop music to writing books — Sounds Like Me: My Life (So Far) In Song — and composing music for musicals — Waitress; see also her 2015 concept album, What’s Inside: Songs From Waitress. She then acted in Waitress, both on Broadway and in London. Sara recently announced her onscreen acting debut in an upcoming series called Girls5eva. And this summer, Sara’s Apple TV+ series Little Voice premiered season one; Sara composed all the original music heard in the show. Our latest shock is the concept album Sara just surprise released. Today, fans can hear More Love: Songs From Little Voice Season One, and it is a treat.
Some of the music that appears in Little Voice are songs Sara wrote specifically for the show. Others are songs she had written years before but that had never made it onto her own albums. Because of the latter background, More Love works partially as a rarities compilation. However, even those older and more personal songs have been reworked and reimagined, ensuring a concept album that is cohesive and focused.
As with What’s Inside: Songs From Waitress, Sara’s new concept album doesn’t exist on its own. We first heard most of these songs in Little Voice, as sung by Brittany O’Grady in her starring role as Bess King. Now that season one has reached its end, the full cast album is available to stream or buy. All of the songs on More Love first appeared on the show and in the cast album, but naturally, Sara brings her own unique style and charm to each track.
Sara recorded More Love quickly between late July and the beginning of August. After only a week or two of recording, the album was mixed and mastered in just a few more weeks. Despite the rushed conditions, More Love doesn’t sound any worse for wear. It helps that all the songs were fully formed already, and that Sara and the team she worked with are such seasoned musicians by now.
More Love continues in the direction of Sara’s last studio album, Amidst The Chaos. Like that stellar 2019 album, this new concept record generally offers up songs that sound rootsy and raw, even a bit under-produced. There’s a lot of acoustic guitar and strong drumbeats, and backup vocalist Madison Cunningham adds a new timbre to Sara’s lead vocals. The songs sound like they could have been performed live in front of an intimate audience… you know, pre-COVID. The Little Voice cast album sounded fairly natural too, but with a bit more pop sheen. Moreover, Brittany O’Grady’s voice is brighter and lends the songs a more innocent quality. Sara’s voice has more weight to it, giving the songs a wiser perspective.
The album sometimes feels a tad too consistent. It’s a largely soft and calm set of songs. Mixed in amongst some truly heart-wrenching ballads, we get earnest tracks about growing into yourself and finding hope in this dark world. It isn’t until “Coming Back To You” that we get a song with a more energized, impactful chorus. The album could have benefited with one or two more songs with that kind of punch. Even so, More Love is a lovely record if you’re in the right mood for it.
For More Love – or some final bonus material, at least – there are two missing songs that would have would have further elevated my listening experience: First and foremost, that stunning original demo of “Hemingway,” before it was transformed into “Dear Hope.” Honestly, “Hemingway” was a perfect song, and it deserves to be heard as it was originally written. Please, Sara, release it more widely! Secondly, I think the whole world needs to hear “Dance Is My Lung”; watch Little Voice episode 7 if you’re intrigued.
I’ve been a fan of Sara Bareilles since 2007, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the first season of Little Voice. Hopefully it’ll get a second season… and then ideally we’d get another concept album from Sara. I would also be thrilled if she ever releases a proper rarities compilation. For now, though, More Love: Songs From Little Voice Season One is a beautiful record filled with songs that are poignant, honest, and uplifting. It’s good enough to stand among Sara’s “real” albums, and it’s a rare bright spot in 2020.
Track by Track
“I Don’t Know Anything” – Little Voice‘s first episode started with “I Don’t Know Anything,” a song that moves from self-deprecation to optimism for what you can still discover. Sara’s recording starts with piano and gentle symbols, creating a simple and honest soundscape. It actually is very reminiscent of Sara’s earliest music, from even before Little Voice (that is, her 2007 album, not the new TV series). “I Don’t Know Anything” grows as the song moves forward, adding in strings and ending with a pretty, jazzy vibe.
“More Love” – Next up is the title track, and one of the highlights of Little Voice. In the show, Bess King films its music video in episode 5; you can see that music video here. Sara wrote “More Love” with Jack Antonoff, though it’s unclear when. It may be a new song, or it may have been written as far back as when the duo composed “Brave” and “Chasing The Sun” for The Blessed Unrest. Sara’s version is as celebratory as the one in the show, though where Brittany O’Grady sings the chorus high, Sara splits it into dueling octaves, the lower one giving the song more weight. I may prefer the Brittany version, but Sara’s recording here is still gorgeous, and even better than her short demo.
“King Of The Lost Boys” – In Little Voice, “King Of The Lost Boys” wasn’t a standout song for me. Surprisingly, though, I found myself liking it more here. Sara co-wrote it with Jason Blynn and Pete Harper (both of whom helped her write “I Choose You” from The Blessed Unrest), as well as Earl The Squirrel. Considering the co-writers, it’s again unclear if this song is new or of it dates back to 2013. In any case, “King Of The Lost Boys” is a sweet and rootsy song that harkens back to Peter Pan. It could work as a song for young kids, but is just as enjoyable for us adults, too.
“Dear Hope” – A few weeks ago, Sara released three demos exclusively on Apple Music. Among them was “Hemingway,” a beautiful song of heartbreak that would later be reworked into a whole new song, this time about hope. Truth be told, I *adore* that original “Hemingway” demo, and I wish it had been included here. But that’s taking away from “Dear Hope,” and how impactful it is in its own right. In Little Voice, Bess King writes it for a contest, inspired by the terrible things she sees happening to her loved ones. Sara’s recording is just as powerful, and it’s – sadly – especially relevant now in 2020.
“Ghost Light” – Appearing in episode 7 of Little Voice, Sara wrote this track specifically for the show. It’s a beautiful song built around piano, and with high vocals later on, it has an angelic quality. “Ghost Light” comes from the theater tradition of leaving a light on in the center of the stage when the building is otherwise empty and dark. Some say it’s meant to keep ghosts happy or to chase away mischievous spirits. In Little Voice, Bess writes the song as a way to illuminate the stories of her apartment’s previous inhabitants. These ghostly inspirations lend “Ghost Light” a haunting yet magical quality.
“Simple And True” – Sara revealed that she wrote “Simple And True” years ago, and though it was a favorite, she’s not sure why it never appeared on one of her albums. It’s unclear how far back this song dates, but the subject matter is heart-wrenching. From the original demo to the version heard in Little Voice (episode 6), to this new recording here, “Simple And True” has been chillingly mournful, built on simple, echoing guitar. It’s amazing how emotive such a minimalist song can sound. It sounds otherworldly through the first two choruses, then the bridge comes forth to tear us down. The demo was a full minute longer (more time to revel in its glory!), but “Simple And True” is still stunning here.
“Coming Back To You” – In episode 2 of Little Voice, Bess King was already singing “Coming Back To You.” On More Love, this song is an unexpected standout – how did I not notice how amazing it was before?! Up until now, the album has remained fairly slow and gentle, but “Coming Back To You” provides a much-need breath of fresh air. Following earnest verses, the chorus hits hard, bringing energy and angst and some rumbling drums. Big Sara Bareilles choruses are what I live for! (That and her heartbreak ballads… and her sassy anthems, of course.) This is one I’ll be going back to a lot.
“In July” – The only song on More Love that Sara did not write is “In July.” Even in Little Voice, it wasn’t Bess’s song; it was Sam’s (played by Colton Ryan). So it’s a small surprise that we get it here, but I’ll take it. “In July” grows around a funky beat and instrumentation, with some really nice piano for good measure. It has some breezy, cool energy and high, carefree vocals. It almost sounds like a jazz standard.
“Tell Her” – Another new song is “Tell Her,” which Sara wrote with Justin Tranter, Lori McKenna, and Hillary Lindsey. (The former two co-wrote some songs on Amidst The Chaos. Justin co-wrote “No Such Thing” and “Poetry By Dead Men,” while Lori co-wrote “Miss Simone,” “Saint Honesty,” “A Safe Place To Land,” and “Shiny.”) The song takes the perspective of a woman who’s feeling jealous of her partner’s friend. Sara begins by singing of her own bad traits and issues in their relationship, but they’re things her boyfriend accepts and loves about her. But the other woman in his life needs to remain nothing more than a friend, while Sara needs to hear that she’s The One again. It’s a great song that offers a new perspective on relationship issues.
“Little Voice” – The final song is the one that started it all. Sara Bareilles fans know that her major label debut album was called Little Voice; Sara had been inspired by a dream and written the song, but it was deemed “not good enough” to make the cut. Fast forward 15 years, and that song was good enough. Sara’s first studio recording of “Little Voice” came out in June, but it was shorter than her original demo and live versions. Today, we finally have the full studio recording to enjoy. “Little Voice” is as candid and powerful as ever, and a worthy closing track on More Love.
More Love: Songs From Little Voice Season One Score: 4/5
Highlights on More Love: Songs From Little Voice Season One include: “More Love,” “Simple And True,” “Coming Back To You,” “Tell Her,” and “Little Voice.”
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