Style: emotive acoustic pop; compare to Shawn Colvin, Cindy Morgan and Patty Griffin
Top tracks: "Fireflies & Songs," "From this One Place," "It's Me"
A songwriter in the truest sense, Sara Groves transfers the strains of everyday life to tape better than any artist in Christian music today. And though she has always translated her keen observations of others into four-minute song stories, Fireflies & Songs finds the ex-high school teacher stepping back from the chalkboard for some serious self-examination, making her already personal track record even more intimate.
From the title track's tender opening line ("Thirty years ago I was a little girl/Riding in the backseat of a car/A woman sang, 'You don't bring me flowers anymore'/There fell a little silence in my heart") to the closing resolve of "Joy is in Our Hearts" ("It is good to come together/In our friendship to remember/All the reasons hope is in our hearts … Christ our joy and strength"), Fireflies & Songs sounds as personal as the messages its lyrics dictate, thanks in part to veteran producer Charlie Peacock. Encouraging Groves to keep the song at the production's core, Peacock used each song's demo as the blueprint for the final track's construction, nestling Groves' telling vocal inside a soiree of earthy instrumentations.
On "From This One Place," a steady piano pulse and plaintive pedal steel juxtapose the paralyzing fear of anxiety with faith in a bigger picture God: "From this one place I can't see very far/This one moment I'm square in the dark/These are the things I will trust in my heart/You can see something else." [Groves talks more about her onstage anxiety attacks in our interview.]
"Love" utilizes syncopated strings and a mellow marimba to outline ill-conceived notions of love, and asks for its prevailing guidance to align our perspectives: "Love not of you, love not of me/Come hold us up, come set us free/Not as we know it, but as it can be."
"Twice as Good" highlights the fulfillment of friendship, and "Setting Up the Pins" is as close to home-down bluegrass as Groves has ever recorded, with fiddle chucks, a picking mandolin and a bluesy harmonica shuffling the two-beat track along.
And in a stroke of melancholic genius, Groves unveils married life's darker moments in "It's Me," singing over a prowling minor accompaniment: "Cutting me down in small degrees/You know my worst insecurities/Making no effort to understand/No one can hurt you like I can/Deep down inside the girl's waking up/She's calling out to the boy she loves/It's me."
With a vocal that emotes more feeling in a single line than most artists conjure up in an entire album, Groves willingly dissects the sins of life to shed light on what is temporary and what is eternal, getting to the heart of what really matters. And because of the greater perspective she articulates throughout her treasured discography, she extends hope through each and every heartache line.
I was certain Groves had already uncovered all of life's hidden layers. But Fireflies & Songs probes yet deeper, and even more beautifully, into the fears, doubts, and joys of the human soul.
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