One For Keeps is a features series in which musicOMH writers wax lyrical on albums they’d just not be able to cope without. Here Sam Shepherd picks one of the most significant records in his life, Sarabeth Tucek’s Get Well Soon, which came along at a pivotal time…
There are lots of reasons that people pick their favourite albums, or why an album might be regarded as a classic. They are usually borne from that intense period of self-discovery and learning early in life usually around the teenage years. It is quite unusual to find someone picking an album that they discover later in life as their favourite; by then, most experiences have already been covered and soundtracked.
For what it’s worth, Sarabeth Tucek‘s Get Well Soon is possibly not my favourite album of all time. I’m not even sure what that might be; my Top 10 changes on an hourly basis. However, it is probably one of the most significant records in my life. For that reason, I’m dropping out of the usual third person reviewer standpoint. Oh, that’s great for when you want to be an omnipresent-but-objective review god, but when you’re discussing album that means something to you, how can you be anything but subjective and impassioned? Here’s why Get Well Soon is my one for keeps, and why it might be yours in time.
Just before Christmas 2010, it was fairly evident that my dad wasn’t particularly well. This wasn’t anything new, he’d had a kidney transplant 10 years previously, and had then been diagnosed with a very strange form of cancer shortly afterwards. Frankly, it was amazing that he’d lasted as long as he had.
He’d already had a couple of weeks in hospital, but they let him home for Christmas because he was just about well enough. Looking at the pictures from that time now, he’s actually kind of grey, and definitely wasn’t well enough. Shortly after New Year, or maybe just before, he was back in hospital again. This time, he wouldn’t come out.
During this time, I had to cut back my writing for the site. I was waking up, going to work, heading to the hospital, and then going home for sleep. There wasn’t really a lot of time for music. This went on for months, until, on the 6th April 2011; my dad finally, mercifully, couldn’t keep up the fight any longer.
I remember asking Michael (our beloved editor here at musicOMH) for something to review, just to keep myself busy. When he sent the list, I picked Get Well Soon, solely because it was on a label I could trust to put out good stuff: Sonic Cathedral. I got a reply that said something like “are you sure you want to do that one?” which struck me as a bit odd, but I was sure that this was the album for me. I think the title made me laugh under the circumstances.
It became apparent why I’d been asked that particular question when the album turned up. Get Well Soon was an album about the death of a parent. More specifically: it was, in part, about the death of Sarabeth’s father.
Initially, I really didn’t want to listen to it let alone review it, but after some time it became apparent that far from being difficult to listen to, it offered comfort. The songs spoke to me and through the shared experience the album offered, Get Well Soon became a supportive voice that helped me through a troubled time.
In terms of the album as a body of musical work, Get Well Soon is an underrated gem. Sarabeth is in top form musically, lyrically and vocally throughout. Although it could be regarded as a folk album in places (on account of the instrumentation), there’s so much more going on. So there’s a lot of acoustic guitar on the album, but every so often searing electric guitars cut across them in squalls of anger and pain (check out Wooden or Rising), Sarabeth’s voice soars one moment and cracks the next, and at times the drums wouldn’t be out of place on a rock album. It’s an album that transcends genre and influence though. I can still hear elements of Joni Mitchell, Bread, Natalie Merchant and others in there, but the personal nature of the album (and possibly my familiarity with it) means it stands alone on its own merits.
The most significant aspect of the album to my mind is Sarabeth’s ability to take her experiences and make some kind of sense out of it all. Dreams feature on the album quite frequently, but rather than offer any hope they just keep replaying events or toy with the emotions. My experience at the time seemed to be very dreamlike and unreal, whether that was grief or pure tiredness, I don’t know, but Sarabeth’s lyrics gave that feeling a context.
The title track is an absolute gem. Based on a story that somebody told Sarabeth, it deals with the ways in which grief can manifest. Running alongside that story is the offer of help and support. “Go help someone, get them well” she sings, before ending the song with “get well soon, I was once just like you”. This indication that it is possible to go through terrible loss and carry on, felt (and still feels) like a hand offered to someone who is drowning. It still brings a lump to my throat.
There is a coda to this story. I noticed that Sarabeth was touring in September 2011, and managed to secure an interview with her in Bath on the penultimate show of the tour. During the interview in the ‘backstage area’ (a kitchen with just about enough chairs) I told Sarabeth the story of how I came to pick up the album and how important her record had been to me. I remember the mood in the room changing and just for a moment things felt a little uncomfortable, but then she said “well I think that’s pretty amazing, I really can’t tell you what it means to me to hear you say that it was of any comfort to you at all.” After that, the interview really wasn’t an interview any more, but just a kind of informal chat. It’s not often you get to tell someone just how important their music has been to you, and I wasn’t sure whether I should even mention it. I felt that Sarabeth had been open and honest in making Get Well Soon, and I should also be now I had the opportunity to tell her.
I think that there are multiple reasons for me to pick Get Well Soon. First and foremost is that it is a brilliant album, regardless of the context you’re hearing it in. Secondly, it was the right album at the right time for me, and Sarabeth made me feel less alone. Finally, it is a record that makes me remember how powerful music can be and how it can be used to create, soothe, and inspire. Sarabeth Tucek made an album that helped her deal with her loss and in doing so, she made an album that helped me and countless others deal with theirs. Sometimes it takes an album like this to act as a reminder of just what it is about music that makes people love it so much. It’s the shared experience, the emotional resonance, the feeling it can give you when a band or an artist tells you that you are not alone. This is an album that has that power.
Sarabeth Tucek’s Get Well Soon is out now through Sonic Cathedral.