Sarabeth Tucek - Get Well Soon

by Rich Morris Rating:9 Release Date:2011-04-11

From the moment Tucek's quivering voice wells up at the start of 'The Wound and the Bow' sounding like a possessed Joni Mitchell, you know you're in for something special with Get Well Soon. This first song forms a brief, insular lament before the album proper gets underway with 'Wooden', a desolate ballad in which Tucek revisits her childhood home, where memories are "fading faster like a locomotive". Midway through, the song unexpectedly explodes with anguished, abrasive rock guitar, Tucek's placid reflection transforming into railing anger at the things she has lost. Two tracks in, and we already have two jaw-dropping moments.

If you've yet to discover Tucek's music, that's understandable - she pretty much went to ground after her much-lauded solo debut in 2007. Now, however, is the perfect time to take a chance on this wounded, bewitching music. The inspiration for Get Well Soon is the death of Tucek's father, and as such many songs are suffused with an air of longing and loss. However, Tucek declines to address the subject directly, so instead Get Well Soon works more as a document of the different shades of grief, through anger, confusion, regret and resignation.

Only on 'The Fireman' does she come close to spelling it out: "I will always be your father/ you will be my daughter", although the song's subject is a dream in which her father is a fireman who refuses to save her from burning. The lyrics could be disturbing but are delivered to a breezy Beatles-esque melody, as is the following 'Smile for No One'. Such MOR music could feel like an emotional cop-out if Tucek did not pull it off so consummately, and invest it with genuine love and warmth. As it is, you feel as though you are peaking in on something captivatingly intimate.

The use of such strong, stirring melodies also prevents listening to an album full of ruminations on death and loss from becoming an endurance test. It also winningly sells the emotional journey Tucek appears to cover over the course of the record. Again, this could be horribly hokey, yet the lilting, plangent piano and distressed violin on 'Things Left Behind' give its fragmentary lyrics ("The scream of an ambulance... whisper of 'it's an accident'") real depth and weight, as if Tucek is processing these memories in real time. Wisely, Tucek keeps the production sparse, most songs relying on little more than piano and drums, a la Lennon's similarly grief-stricken John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band. Only forthcoming the single 'State I Am In' takes a detour into radio-friendly rock territory. It's also one of the strongest songs here, showing Tucek's versatility.

Overall, Get Well Soon plays out like an hallucinogenic travelogue through Tucek's past, with memories of her father, fuzzy, crystal clear and illusionary, eliding into one another, to create an emotional whirlpool of joy, fear and sadness which is often as disorientating as it is engulfing. This kaleidoscopic sensibility reaches its zenith on the penultimate track, 'Exist Ghost' on which the fuzzed-up guitar and malevolent organ are like acid eating away Tucek's fragile, closed yet questing vocal.

It's followed by the more conventional, but no less wonderful title track, on which Tucek seems to finally achieve some distance from her pain and with it regains her sense of wholeness. The lyric, again decidedly non-linear, pictures her crying, "hot with grief", as she begs her gardener not to cut down her trees. A more heartening message nestles in the songs acoustic folds: "It just takes time". Once again, cliché is vanquished by the force, the honesty, the truthfulness of her delivery.

Get Well Soon leaves you exhausted but pleased to have shared an experience with its creator. What else is there to say? It's a remarkable album and you should own it.

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