Sara Gazarek ‘Thirsty Ghost’ LP/CD (Self-released) 4/5

With former releases on Steel Bird Music, Palmetto Records and Sony, Sara Gazarek now opts for the independent route with the release of her new, and sixth album, ‘Thirsty Ghost’.

It’s actually wholly fitting that this album should find itself released independently – while previous releases, including her debut album ‘Yours’ (2005), have achieved strong critical and commercial success, there’s something about ‘Thirsty Ghost’ that presents this project as Gazarek’s line-in-the-sand album, and something of a reinvention of the artist we had previously been introduced to. Even the title of ‘Thirsty Ghost’ is provocative in of itself – the notion of a person that feels a sense of incompleteness whether that be through a thirst that can’t be quenched, or through the desire to achieve more than they have before.

And helping Gazarek to achieve those goals are an incredible array of musicians including organist Larry Goldings, drummer Christian Euman, bassist Alex Boneham, saxophonist Josh Johnson and pianist Stu Mindeman, who, when paired with Gazarek’s exquisite vocal, really deliver a thrilling project worthy of all their collective talents. ‘I’m Not The Only One’, ‘I Get Along Without You Very Well’ and ‘Never Will I Marry’ are just a handful of songs that demonstrate some of the stirring and genuinely captivating highs to be found throughout. And then there’s the appearance of world-renown, Grammy-winning vocalist, Kurt Elling – with Gazarek having guested on Elling’s ‘Passion World’ album in 2015, Elling returns the favour with a guest vocal on the album closer, ‘Distant Storm’, which is an apt reworking of pianist Brad Mehldau’s ‘When It Rains’ with lyrics penned by Gazarek.

The song that could very well serve as the project’s centrepiece is Gazarek’s reinterpretation of Dolly Parton’s seminal ‘Jolene’ – a song that has seen its fair share of covers from artists as diverse as Gloria Ann Taylor to Taylor Swift. While the pace of Parton’s original presents a woman potentially trying to stop something before it happens, Gazarek’s composition changes the complexion of the song and through its more fierce and intense arrangement, the greater sense of urgency seems to suggest that something already has happened.

It’s these near-microscopic touches that propel something from being good to great, and while it’s probably not entirely accurate to describe ‘Thirsty Ghost’ as a riskier project than its predecessors… it could certainly be argued to be a more honest one.

European tour dates:
October 24 Guadalajara, Spain
October 25 Las Palmas, Gran Canaria
October 28-30 Café Central, Madrid, Spain

Imran Mirza