Sarah Elizabeth Haines

REVIEW: Sarah Elizabeth Haines “Castaway”


Sarah Elizabeth Haines — Castaway

Musical artists seem to live messier lives than the rest of us – the phrase “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” slips off our tongues without even thinking of the oversimplification it represents. But so much of that chaos is circumstantial – touring, long-distance relationships and trying to make a mark in a traditionally male-dominated industry IS messy, and the folks making art actually end up being custodians of a sort, cleaning up the mess around them and arranging it in a way that we can – hopefully – better understand the chaos that we didn’t even know existed. Singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist Sarah Elizabeth Haines swept up piles of human chaos in the process of making her second album, Castaway, putting listeners in the position of dealing with some uncomfortable truths.

The album begins with “Body,” a largely spoken-word piece that hinges on a cry from Haines’ viola. Her words portray a (not-so-ficticious) world where sex is transactional and women are on the bill of sale – “We’re supposed to/Sell without saying we’re selling it.” Along with Linda Pitmon’s drumbeat, Haines’ strings fairly screech in protest as she insists, “Need I remind you/My body is mine.” “Body” transitions into “Young and Pretty,” a refrain familiar to many young women, with the internal monologue that follows – “What do you see/What does that mean/Is that your only version of what I’m supposed to be” – sung not so much as questions as challenges.

“In The Morning” addresses that relationship chaos inherent in any musician’s life. Over co-producer Kevin Salem’s percolating guitar riff, Haines sings of the whipsaw nature of a coupling dicated by tour schedules – “I miss you most when I’m dreaming/Of the life we might one day see.” “Lazy” emphasizes the singer’s vocal range while taking more direct aim at enjoying those spare moments together – “Shut the door why don’t you babe/I think we’ve got some heat to make.”

Haines plays any number of instruments on Castaway (guitar, violin, viola, percussion), and the music on the record, like life, is often frenetic. Most of the songs are string-driven, and in addition to making her own music, Haines plays on several other projects, including violin and viola with the touring company of Hamilton, and the different skills she’s mastered lend depth to the emotional ups and downs of the songs on Castaway. The title track, which anchors the record, is a somewhat different animal. Paced by Salem’s keys, the song looks at self-created isolation and the bitterness that comes with it – “You’re the king of your island/Population of one.” As Haines’ strings and Kyra Sims’ French horn thicken the mood, the singer counters this castaway’s stubbornness – “You’re not looking for a rescue” – not with easy answers, but merely an open ear – “I wish that I could make you see/I’m not trying to save you/I just wanna keep you company.” Turns out that Haines’ life is no messier than yours or mine – she just has the gift of explaining it better.

Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Castaway” – Is it about the beauty of the music and the intimacy of the lyrics? Sure. But as a failed viola AND French horn player, I’d love to hear those instruments serve such a gorgeous song.

Castaway was produced by Kevin Salem and Sarah Elizabeth Haines and engineered and recorded by Salem. All songs were written by Haines, with co-writing credits going to Salem and Emanuel Ayvas. Additional musicians on the album include Salem (guitars, synths), Yula Tadano (bass), Cody Rahn (drums), Nikki Elle (bass), Linda Pitmon (drums) Buffi Jacobs (cellos and string arrangement) and Kyra Sims (French horns and horn arrangement).

Order Castaway (out February 25) here:

Find more new music like this on our playlist, here: New Americana Music playlist by Americana Highways

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