Honestly, hearing that an artist is from “the music city” does nothing for me. The historic city holds no mystical power in my opinion; it’s more the city of false hopes and broken dreams. So when Nashville-based Ellen Starski’s Sara’s Half Finished Love Affair landed, I tuned in.
The follow up to 2018’s When Peonies Prayed for the Ants produced by Lucas Morton (Crystal Bowersox, Hush Kids) and Matt Hoffman is eleven tracks of a songwriter’s defining moments. The tunes are crafted handily around notes wrapping like flowered vines into the sun. Beautifully grounded bass lines define the music. The opener “Come To Me Lover” seems like fluff, so hold on: this artist’s brilliance lives in the dark places.
“The Satellite That Changed Its Tune” is a dance through metaphor. Starski’s vocals are a mix between Cindi Lauper and early Madonna in her phrasing. Uncluttered instrumentation is perfect as an accompaniment to an angelic voice singing of truth in relationships. Wandering a new path, “Never Met A Ghost” defines the heavy, haunting, dark theme of relationships. This is really cool. But is this song part of the record’s story, or the artist’s, or maybe both? “Pure Intention” may answer that question, if sequencing helps shape the story. The song builds with a crescendo and empties into an echo of nothingness.
Halfway points are usually a resting place, and “More” really says that in a song. This may be the most traditional Nashville sound on the record; not as brave as some of the statements of unique, eclectic songwriting here, but good nonetheless. Greatness is lurking right beneath the surface: “Follow My Lead” vibes into the groove, with its Nancy Sinatra, “These Boots Are Made For Walkin” attitude. Country faerie dust seems to pass over “All My Fears,” with its soaring vocals. “No Ending” dances through, with an almost Eurythmics feel to the musicality of the song. “Find Your Way” is heavy-handed yet purposeful. Starski’s voice is hugely versatile: it needs no framework to soar and can resonate in its lower range, echoing with the essence of Annie Lenox.
Closing Sara’s Half Finished Love Affair with the title track, Ellen Starski makes a bold move. This overtly orchestral cut is short and sweet, yet feels like part of a larger idea. Her expectation is clearly that we will be back; nuanced with a final twisted bit of unexpected instrumentation that is almost worthy of the Talking Heads. Yes, I am curious, and you should be too. —Lisa Whealy