Sarah Elizabeth Haines is a classically-trained multi-instrumental violinist who can be seen in concert halls playing the masters and on Broadway backing major musicals, or touring with Les Misérables and Hamilton. She also has been a part of the New York pop music scene, playing with bands like Emanuel and The Fear and Bellehouse. Sarah is now stepping into the spotlight alone, releasing a powerful debut solo album, Pretending to Sleep, November 2 at the Rockwood Music Hall in New York City. Pretending to Sleep not only combines all of Haine’s musical talents, it marks her as one of the nation’s consummate songwriters.
Pretending to Sleep is brutally honest and filled with poetic pain – and hope. And it’s personal. Her voice sings to you, even on a recording meant for thousands of listeners, each song, each lyric is presented in a voice that is deeply intimate. In this album, Haines demonstrates her precious talent of making you feel like you are the only one in the room with her and she is holding her beautiful heart out you.
Pretending to Sleep is compact – nine songs, each one a carefully crafted poetic story on its own. Together they are a musical journal through the mind and aorta of a magically talented human being who hurts and hopes just like us, but unlike us, can display that hurt and hope with an irresistible sonic power.
The album opens with “Losing Game”, Sarah’s crystal clear voice riding on a carpet of throbbing bass notes like she is a singer along on stage in a spotlight telling us about her Hands bloodied from trying to tear down your walls….I can’t wake you if you are pretending to sleep. But the lens pulls back as she sings Unseeing eyes cannot lead the blind/On deaf ears falls no melody. In an interview, she said she understood the larger meaning of that line when she wrote it, that we are in a time when no one listens – the world is full of deaf ears that can’t hear the melody.
She moves on to “Break My Heart”, slower, gentler, with a single drum and an organ drone accented by high pitched overdubs like back-of-mind voices reminding her of the danger of a broken heart. Powerful, yet intimate. But before you are completely enveloped in the danger she faces, Sarah takes you to a petrified forest in Sonoma California in “Petrified”, moving you mysteriously with rim clicks, single bass notes and distant voices that explore fear.
“Petrified” is one of these songs you return to over and over again, getting new meaning with each listen. In the first listen time you hear the message of dying a thousand times bound up in fear, We’re paralyzed by /The things we cannot say. But as you listen again and think about her, you see this is an ironic line because in Pretending to Sleep she is unparalyzed, saying the things that were bound up in fear, but no more.
“Let Me Down” is an abrupt turn into a brighter horizon as her voice radiates color despite lyrics that say don’t worry baby it will be better when we’re sober. “Postcard” continues the theme with a more energized, almost girlish voice, moving gently through a lyrical landscape of anticipation for reunion with a lover. We’ve got nothing but Time between us, baby she sings, communicating her nostalgia and her joy in a single line.
But the mood changes both musically and emotionally with “Let’s Try that Again” which begins with a snap-finger, almost Americana intro that blends into rock song analyzing why a relationship walked away, ending up with the hopeful But then honey how did we end up here? “Blue” follows, raising a question “Can love really be such a crime? in a sexy, smoky jazz club love song about what might have been.
The question of what-might-have-been gives way to you- never-know in “All I Know”. In her most girlish voice accompanied only a guitar, she muses on how you’ll wait forever for the moment that is sure to be the one so Don’t doubt it when the time comes. Her moment has come and fortunately for us, she didn’t doubt it or herself.
The album ends with hope in “Bound To” a slow strum guitar and drum trip that tells us in her impossible clear voice that returns to this theme of hope with the verse,
The game gets harder every time you play
Maybe I should save this for another day/I am bound to get this right
With Pretending to Sleep, Sarah Elizabeth Haines has gotten everything right, very right.
Patrick O’Heffernan is co-host of the LA-based, nationally syndicated weekly program, Music FridayLive! and is a music reviewer for online magazines Vents, The Hollywood Progressive and MusicJunkie. He has also co-hosted a national political talk show, The Fairness Doctrine, and hosted the “Uplinks” media segment on Saturday All Things Considered on NPR. He holds a PhD in International Relations from MIT, has been awarded an Emmy, four Addy’s, and a Webby-Honors, among other awards. He has published 5 books and ghost-written others. A project he co-launched, the North Asia Nuclear Free Zone, was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. He serves on the Board of Netroots Nation.