Sarah Miles Debut Has Identity Crisis

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My biggest advice to young musicians is be yourself, not pieces of everyone else. One, the debut full release from Sarah Miles, has a serious identity crisis. The first of these is what to call it. Promo materials toss around labels such as folk, country, and pop. It's not a mélange–pop is the correct label. Second, there's the matter of her self-chosen comparisons: Mariah Carey, Sara Bareilles, Ingrid Michaelson, and Carrie Underwood, of which the first is closest. She has a high, girl-like whispery voice like all four, but she has the drama of Bareilles, but not her hipness; the (occasional) quiet demeanor of Michaelson, but not her attention to arrangement; and the sweetness of Underwood, but not the contrasting bottom tones to her voice. One is a "young" album that lacks confidence and tries too hard to impress us with how Miles can hit the high notes. Like Mariah Carey, she offers diva music with the forced drama of dance hall pop. (My personal comparison would be to English club ingénue Robyn.) On one track she actually sings "It's all about me" and, yes, there's too much of that going on.

I've been very harsh thus far, so allow me to temporize a bit. Miles has a promising voice that can take her places once she gets control over it and acquires better material. She has a nice catch in her throat and there are hints of husk when she puts the whispery tones on hold. (Please Lord–deliver us from little girl voices and lead us into the land of full-grown women!) One is an optimistic album, the bulk of songs being about being young and in love. Its best moments are generally the buildups to what are supposed to be hooky refrains, though the latter are overly processed, excessive, and generic.  When Miles dials it back several notches and sings to the song, not through it, the results are much stronger. We hear this to best effect on the title track, and again on "Take the Lead," the second of which feels like genuine joy rather than bludgeoned optimism. Duty requires that I dub this a very rocky debut, but I sure would like to hear Ms. Miles do something spare that connects more to an audience than to the Austin music biz.

By the way, her YouTube version of "One" is better than what's on the album.

Rob Weir

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Title track 'One'is almost the same tune as Joan Osborne's 'One of Us' from her 1st album Relish. Shouldn't be allowed.....!