Sarah Goodin – EP

Sometime between Bertolt Brecht and Bono, music underwent a diaspora. Genres became concepts draped over acts and albums–often by critics, often by the artists themselves. Folk gave birth to countless abstractions and perversions, from the front porch to Woody Guthrie to Bob Dylan to infinity. Rising from this primordial soup was “coffeehouse.” This cooled approach to folk music merged with jazz, soul, and free-verse, resulting in a smart, yet accessible product.

Sarah Goodin is no stranger to the “coffeehouse” folk genre. Bellingham caffeine-freaks have probably seen Ms. Goodin all over the town, strumming, picking, and crooning atop a barstool. Now, with the undulating chaos of folk history behind her, Sarah Goodin has released a 4-track EP.

“Sleep” is a twelve-minute survey into Ms. Goodin’s maturing vocal talent and less-is-more songwriting approach. Songs are punctuated by sounds-of-the-town ambiance–lo-fi vinyl crackles kick off the disc and revving bus engines smooth the space between tracks. Production credit is shared between the ever-charming Brett Steelhammer and David Brown, who double as instrumentalists on several tracks. The album is clearly an intimate effort to be devoured by Bellingham’s sooth-soul scene.

The title track is an insomniac’s list of longings and regrets, carried by an acoustic picking pattern and forlorn cello swells. “Sleep” is a lyrically confessional tune with simplistic imagery:

But at night I just lie awake pretending that it’s yesterday/

and I’ve done nothing that I might regret/

The ceiling looks down on me, and I give in so easily/

to all the tiny sins I can’t forget/

I wish that I could sleep

The second track has a more experimental edge. Glaring percussion back-beats give “Home” an old-school, bluesy vitality, and an opportunity for Ms. Goodin to sing tougher. A contrast is developed between the first two tracks, showing her versatility within the genre. This versatility is further explored on “Call Me.” As opposed to “Home,” the track has a lovely, flowing build, and its refrain is as earnest as a child tugging your sleeve.

Simplicity can be powerful. Given the subject matter, it works for the songs. The problem lies in the lack of dichotomy. The beauty needs ugliness as a foil. Her voice is strong, her melodies are meandering, but something needs to come to a boil. She can afford to get ugly.Listeners will be left wanting more not only in terms of duration, but in terms of courage. Live-performance regulars may find a sober lack of dissonance in this EP. They will be hungry for Ms. Goodin’s voice to break, for the needles to go into the red, for that man-on-the-tightrope suspense. Something needs to be brought to a fever pitch, be it performance, production, or lyricism.

That said, it is incredibly hard to fit musical conflict on a disc with only twelve minutes to work with. Ms. Goodin expresses herself soulfully, but listeners will yearn for her to release the beast.

We all know she’s got it in her.