At the age of 22, Tulsa, OK native Sunday Lane has made incredible strides in establishing herself as a respected singer-songwriter. Nabbing a spot at Coachella 2011 and having two tracks from her debut EP Bring Me Sunshine selected for use on the TV series One Tree Hill, Lane is certainly well on her way to stardom. It helps that she’s completely devoted to her craft. “I am most in my element when my hands are on the keys,” Lane notes in the press release for her first full-length album, and it shows in the finished product.
Let’s take a look at From Where You Are track by track and see what those hands have created on the keys.
Get To You: With an inviting piano line, the album opens with a tale of long distance love and longing that is as satisfying as classic hit “Drove All Night”. Lane’s vocals are youthful, hopeful and tempered with the maturity and grit of Patty Griffin or Beth Hart. Pop-piano driven and single-worthy, it’s a catchy, fitting opener. “Everyone said ‘Don’t get your hopes too high. It’s been over a year. The sparks, they die’…We can live like we’re still 19 and we haven’t seen how mean the world can be.”
A Little Too Young: Immediately the stand out on first spin and the first video from the album, this track is easily my favourite on the entire album. Informed with the pop-rock artistry of early Chantal Kreviazuk, Lane weaves a musical salute to that world-weariness that many youth feel in the current culture of “do more, be more, be perfect”, and the people who ground us in our lives. As someone who was forced to grow up incredibly fast, this track’s so relatable it’s almost a palpable pain. However, despite that somber opening, the track’s anything but a downer; if anything, it’s a sonic antidepressant. The frank, straight-up nature of Lane’s songwriting is appealing. She mixes metaphor with plain honesty in just the right amounts. “I don’t wanna be alone with myself/I’m afraid of what I see when I look at me…Turn the music up real loud, make it too loud ’cause/I’m a little too young to feel this old…”
Let Me Go: Random aside: I love when artists leave in studio banter from the recording set-up. The chatter between Tori Amos and musicians at the start of “Amazing Grace/’Til The Chicken” is but one example. This pulsing, moody tune begins with such an inclusion, providing a bit of transition from the upbeat openers into this pained plea for resolution. Love the post-chorus and outro vocals on this one and the guitar work. “We wanted, we needed/Love got us so addicted/I’m packed up, I’m leaving/So, so how you gonna let me go?”
Waiting For You: “You’re so good at breaking me/Shatter and shaking me/But I can’t seem to resist…” Low-key and piano-led, this tune feels like a natural complement to “Let Me Go”, the post-leaving lament. A captured sense of longing for the ones we really ought to leave behind forever. Soft-pop and lovely.
Painted Blue: Excellent use of strings on this track. A heartbreaking track made all the more powerful by Lane’s earnest vocals, it’s a perfect example of her ability to tell a tale and still evoke more symbolic imagery. The maturity of the lyrics is striking, and proof that age is meaningless when it comes to understanding love. The piano is really allowed to shine here. “This feels like a lie and I try to be true/It was covered in white ’til I painted you blue.”
Light Up: This track is probably the one that reminds me most of Beth Hart, an artist I love for her searing, soul-searching compositions. I have to pause a moment and note that the mixing and balance of instruments is great on this album. So often, piano gets lost beneath drums and guitar the moment they’re brought into a pop-rock tune; that’s not the case here. The longing and need behind the lyrics build and swell with the music. “I took a good hard look at what I had become inside… I faked a smile and I hoped no one would notice.”
Us Against Them: After several sad songs, a little optimism and strength creeps back in. The title says it all: it’s a song of a couple standing against the world that often tears away at one’s resolve and confidence. It feels like an echo of “A Little Too Young”, only more melancholy. Perhaps because my mind’s chosen a favourite between the two, this track isn’t quite as strong to my ears. It also reminds me more of the tunes on Bring Me Sunshine, which I feel was a less polished collection on the whole (albeit brimming with potential).
Waltzing With Fire: There’s almost a modern country vibe to this track, which is normally not a genre I dig, but it works incredibly well here. Again, strings are used just perfectly as an accent to Lane’s raw vocals and strong piano. I love the waltz-feel of the melody line – clever and intuitive. Love’s inherent dangers are dissected here. “Hating what’s good for you/Wanting what you know will only tear you apart/Oh is like waltzing with fire.”
Wait For Me: Despite the piano-folk-pop sonic landscape, this one’s got sass as it points the blame at the one who left in a seemingly easy choice. A love is tested, and one party folds quickly. “That was naivety,” Sunday bitterly tells herself, yet questions her lover now gone: “What happened to our big plans? Or were they never waiting… Why couldn’t you wait for me?”
Want You Back: The effects on Lane’s vocals remind me of early Jewel (Pieces Of You) and while I’m not always fond of distorting the voice of a song, it somehow works here. I think it may have been better to shift this track to the end of the album, though. The sense of echoes within empty rooms, of ghosts in the mind, is evoked here. This forlorn plea is right up there with “A Little Too Young” with its beating heart drums and aching high notes. “I took the clock and turned it back… You weren’t gone/I told you I was wrong.”
Slowly: Solo piano closes the album, and while I can see why this one was shifted to the end sonically and thematically, I’m standing by my assertion that “Want You Back” should have closed the album out. This song’s tentative approach to love stands in sharp relief to the “full steam ahead” and cheery album opener. A sense of lessons learned and a journey made. “Easy as a rhyme/It doesn’t even fit/But it flows…Stay away from me/These memories are haunting…”
Final Comments: In approaching this album, I took the time to digest Sunday Lane’s 2010 EP to assess something that, for me, defines potential to thrive as an artist: growth between albums. While said EP speaks of a mature and reflective creator, the growth between projects is startling. Lane has quickly honed her craft, tightening up her compositions, ending them where it fits and not dragging them on. Most importantly, she hasn’t compromised the little idiosyncrasies that make her unique.
From Where You Are is a powerful debut album release. It easily holds it own against heavy hitters in the admittedly crowded female singer-songwriter realm. While lazy reviewers have compared Lane to Tori Amos’ early work (and will likely throw out Taylor Swift on the basis of age), Lane isn’t a deep dweller in metaphor and anger. A more astute assessment would be the “pop with a folk twist” work of Lauren Pritchard, the gritty love stories of Patty Griffin and the cautious optimism of Christina Perri.
If there is one criticism to be made, and it’s more of a cautionary thought looking forward to a second album (which Lane most certainly should make!), it’s that her songs primarily dwell in love, particularly when it goes wrong. I’d love to see Sunday Lane do a little more exploration of the themes in “A Little Too Young” and perhaps a little more in the social injustice realm. She has a fantastic eye for detailing the ways we interact – or fail to – and taking it to a larger scale would still be relatable enough to engage audiences. I also know, from her work with Thick As Thieves, that she can “go there” comfortably.
Highlights: A Little Too Young; Let Me Go; Light Up; Want You Back; Painted Blue
Lowlights: Waiting For You; Us Against Them (neither are bad tracks, simply not as strong)
Final Grade: A-
You can check out Sunday Lane’s website here. You can also watch the video for “A Little Too Young” on YouTube. I also strongly suggest checking out her EP Bring Me Sunshine which includes “Reckless One” and “Heavy Heart, Heavy Hands”, both fantastic tracks.