By Brian Tucker
Affectionately referred to as “sundress rock,” Sarah Blacker’s music was given that moniker by a local Boston band Blacker performed with during a boat cruise on Boston Harbor. The title sums up nicely her shiny yet introspective folky sound. The same goes for the touching, optimistic vocal delivery. With lilting, gentle textures, Blacker’s singing style is reflective of a carefree walk on a bright day.
Blacker performs with reggae artist Mishka Wednesday April 9th at Ziggy’s.
“It’s a kind of soulful, acoustic pop rock that goes hand in hand with wearing sundresses,” Blacker said. “It moves, it can be freeing, and hopefully at times uplifting too.”
It is, even as songs shift in personality. Like “Perfectly Imperfect” from a 2012 EP of the same name, a song that moves with ease. Swaying and floating, it’s driven solely by prickly ukulele guitar and Blacker’s starry voice.
She sings, “It’s so very hard not to get lost in the worries about tomorrow, where will it all go, how will it be? / Because I’m one foot out the door, outside of these walls that I was born into / If I like every inch of the earth, and perfectly imperfect, too.”
“Writing this song was very much my coming to terms with being a perfectionist but learning to accept what I cannot change. Realizing that being imperfect is in fact perfect.”
But Blacker’s music isn’t all rosy and smiles.
“Shoeshine” sounds melancholy and the brief “When Will the Light Come” is a dreamy, repetitive coda to the EP that highlights her soulful swagger. “Pluggin’ Away,” from 2013’s Precious Little Things, sounds defiant and more Bonnie Raitt than the EP’s Edie Brickell familiarities. Blacker sings “Pluggin’ Away” with a fair share of attitude yet graces it with moments of gentility. As the title implies, it’s about diligence and persistence.
“It’s my way of saying that it’s not always easy, but I’m in this for the long run.”
The long run began with parents passing along music to her as a child. If she wasn’t sitting with her father by the fire listening to records by Paul Simon or Michael Jackson, her choir singing mother was singing nursery rhymes and old time songs throughout their day.
“My folks are probably my best support these days,” Blacker said. “I credit them fully to exposing me to amazing music early on. Paul Simon’s Graceland turned me onto music on the soul-level as a little girl. Listening to his music on the beach in Northwood, New Hampshire will forever be my favorite childhood memory. It was impossible not to dance to and that level of happiness I found in the summer sun is something I always aspire to feel.”
During high school Blacker performed in front of a crowd for the first time, playing a song she’d written. After high school Blacker attended Berklee College of Music in Boston where she studied Music Therapy.
“Music Therapy is always different, person to person. It’s like writing a musical prescription in real time. I always try to tailor each session to the individual or group members present, based around their needs, taste preferences, strengths and perceived goals.”
Berklee also prepared her for anything “musically or personally,” citing the school as a high stress and highly competitively environment.
“I got to make music with some of the most creative and talented people I’ve ever met,” Blacker said.
Across a handful of albums, her music has evolved since 2009’s rawer sounding The Only Way Out is Through. Blacker says later albums defined her better as a singer-songwriter. On them she crafts highly picturesque lyrics, like the summer anthem “These Summer Nights” buttoned with lines like “our voices make the leaves dance…I’d like to wear his breath…shake what Mother Nature gave you, ‘cause she’s always been a dancer.”
“I think my songs mean something different every time I sing them. I write from personal experience inspired by humanity,” Blacker said. “I hope that others connect to my experiences and heal from my healing through songwriting.”
More with Sarah Blacker
You graduated from Berklee College of Music. How did that school prepare you?
Blacker: I would say it prepared me to know myself and be ready for anything musically and personally. It was a high-stress, high-competition environment but I got to make music with some of the most creative and talented people I’ve ever met. I’m glad to have music as my sidekick and be able to speak the language but also have my own version of it.
What’s a moment in your career that never fades?
Blacker: Opening for America at the Lowell Summer Music Series and then sitting in with the band during “Horse With No Name” is something I’ll never forget. My band and theirs was all dressed color coordinated-ly as well. A truly magical night.