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Sarah Marie Young: Little Candy Heart

Bruce Lindsay By

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Sarah Marie Young's Little Candy Heart occupies the space where jazz, soul and classic R&B meet and exchange ideas. On this evidence, it's a great place to be. Young's first release on Dutch download-only label SnipRecords is one of the most beautiful albums of 2014.

Stylistically there's an old-school vibe going on: song-focussed and soulful. Chicago-based Young has a talent for writing songs that feel familiar but never sound clichéd or sterile—proper songs, with universal themes, memorable melodies and strong lyrics. American Songbook meets Stevie Wonder or Smokey Robinson, if that's not overstating things.

Young's voice is a delight: impressive range, great clarity, expressive and emotionally engaging. In her upper register she has the sweetness and purity of Deniece Williams, across her range she invests each note, every word, with an intense honesty. She also makes occasional additions to the instrumental line up, on the less-than-usual baritone ukulele.

Many of Young's self-penned songs are stories of faltering relationships, lost loves or unrequited loves. There's undoubtedly sadness in these tales, but Young's performances are never self-pitying or maudlin—even in the most downbeat narratives Young's voice exudes strength and grace. She creates some beautiful harmonies with her over-dubbed backing vocals too (Leslie Beukelman and Allison Orobia—Young's bandmates in The Oh Yeahs—give a tougher, gospel-flavored, edge with their added vocals on "Be With You").

Young is blessed with a sympathetic set of backing musicians, who in turn are blessed with talent, style and the ability to play in the service of the music. Stu Windeman's keyboards in particular give the music its classic feel, whether he's evoking the '60s (funky organ on "Be With You") or a smoother '80s vibe ("Brighter Days," "Work It Out"). Bryan Doherty's bass lines are crucial to the mood of many of the songs, such as "Little Candy Heart" and "Can't Stop": Neal Wehman never overplays, locking down the beats with confidence and influencing the feel with the subtlest of changes.

The achingly sad "Long Way To Go"—a story of a lost love "with all of its spots and nicks"—is an exemplary display of controlled yet emotive playing and singing, Windeman's piano is beautifully-judged, understated. On the smooth, soulful "What's That Love" Kyle Asche's guitar playing is equally spacious. If this was a pure jazz album they'd no doubt take lengthy solos—on Little Candy Heart solos are seldom taken, the vocal remains central and the emotional impact of the songs is heightened as a result.

"Lo And Behold" deserves to achieve classic status. A strong lyric, an immediate melody, superb vocal and instrumental performances all come together on this gorgeous song—Windeman's sparkling upper-register piano line adds a dreamlike quality that Young matches with her delicate voice.

It can be too easy to look back to a "golden age" and wistfully think "they don't make 'em like that anymore." Mostly they don't, but Sarah Marie Young does: Little Candy Heart is sublime.

Track Listing: Brighter Days; Can't Stop; Little Candy Heart; Black And White; Lo And Behold; Messing Up Your Bed; What's That Love; Little Candy Heart (Reprise); Long Way To Go; Work It Out; Be With You.

Personnel: Sarah Marie Young: vocals, backing vocals, baritone ukulele; Stu Windeman: keyboards; Kyle Asche: guitars; Bryan Doherty: bass; Neal Wehman: drums; Leslie Beukelman: backing vocals (11); Allison Orobia: backing vocals (11).

Title: Little Candy Heart | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Snip Records

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