When an artist or band goes through dark times, it often leads to great art. Look at The Rolling Stones, who produced their best work, including the majestic Let It Bleed, for an extended period after the death of Brian Jones, and Neil Young and Crazy Horse retreated into drink and drugs after the deaths of Danny Whitten and Bruce Berry but somehow managed to create the bruised, magnificent Tonight’s The Night.
It’s with this in mind that we come to Sarabeth Tucek‘s second album Get Well Soon, written after the death of her father. A record of bereavement and survival, Tucek has described it as “an impressionist rendering of a time ruled by grief”, and as you might imagine from that it’s not always an easy task listening to emotions as raw as those laid bare on record.
Tucek first came to prominence with a fleeting but key appearance in hilarious/saddening (delete as appropriate) rockumentary Dig! which led to singing backing vocals for Smog, touring with Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, recording with Ethan Johns and being anointed by Bob Dylan in the form of an opening tour slot. Now with Get Well Soon out on Sonic Cathedral, it’s time for Tucek to stand on her own two feet and forget the namechecking. Like I’ve just failed to do.
With a gorgeous voice that calls to mind Karen Carpenter, or a less husky Jesse Sykes, she’s got the goods to make a wonderful record, and nearly makes it with this release. We begin with short and mournful ‘The Wound and the Bow’ which finds Tucek at the start of her grieving process, the title being a nod to the Greek myth of Philoctetes and his wound that wouldn’t heal. This flows into ‘Wooden’, which starts off slow with acoustic guitar and harmonica, with Tucek witnessing “a collection of memories / fading faster / than a locomotive” before bursting into an exhilarting Crazy Horse-style guitar workout.
“You and I / we share a view / what you have seen / I’ve seen it too”, go the lyrics to the brief and lovely ‘A View’, Tucek wishing for her lost father to return to her. ‘The Fireman’ continues the theme of remembering, and is beautifully affecting in its recounting of childhood memories: “I watched as you crossed the room / to stand by the light of the moon/ and you said ….I will always be your father / and you will always be my daughter”.
‘Smile For No One’ is a gorgeous lament begging to be made into a hit by Taylor Swift or some such country starlet (hey, or Sarabeth Tucek dammit!), its wobbly mellotron and rising chord progression untethering the song and letting it soar skywards.
The only real disappointment with the album is that at the halfway point, things droop downwards with the forgettable ‘Things Left Behind’, ‘At The Bar’ and ‘The Doctor’ all drifting by. These three are interspersed, though, with the country-rockin’ ‘State I Am In’, and ‘Rising’, which broods nicely before exploding in a hail of guitars, and Tucek passionately crying out to her father that she “can’t wait to see you again”.
The stormy ‘Exit Ghost’ – a reference to Hamlet’s dead father, anyone? – brings us to the album’s pay-off, the absolutely beautiful, and former Song of the Day, ‘Get Well Soon’. A plea to herself to be well, Tucek sings “I knew I was sad / I recognised it was bad / but now looking back, I see, my mind, it was cracked”. It also contains one of the finest metaphors for a higher power taking a loved one, Tucek begging a gardener to “please don’t cut my trees”. I’ll leave my colleague Katia Ganfield to say it for me, courtesy of the aforementioned SOTD post - If you’re not left in a mournful daze, tears blistering your eyes towards the song’s poignant end – then surely you can’t be human…
It’s not a perfect record by any means, but for emotional resonance and cathartic power Sarabeth Tucek has achieved, at the very least, some personal closure. And who can argue the importance of that?