Over a decade since Get Well Soon, Sarabeth Tucek returns with a new moniker and a work of rare depth, craftsmanship and beauty
It’s been a long time since we’ve heard from Sarabeth Tucek. Back in 2011, her extraordinary second album Get Well Soon was released. A work which tackled bereavement, grief and mortality, it was written about the sudden death of her father. Yet it wasn’t a morbid, self-indulgent record, rather one than that provided comfort and succour to the listener.
Twelve years on, Tucek has a new moniker – simply her initials, SBT – and a double album that’s miles away from the intimate folk of Get Well Soon but just as emotionally satisfying. It’s not an album to dip into – at 15 tracks and over an hour long, it repays multiple listens and complete immersion – but every one of those years was worth the wait.
Double albums are a tricky beast to pull off. There’s always some filler, even on the classics (can anyone truly say that, when they sit down to play one of The Beatles‘ finest albums, The White Album, Revolution #9 isn’t skipped?), but Tucek seems to have avoided this by skipping through all types of genres. On Joan Of All, you’ll hear drone-rock, lightly strummed acoustic ballads and garage rock that recalls Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground. Some songs take their time to unfurl over six or seven minutes, others are done in under three. Joan Of All is not an album to be bored by.
Jane Says opens the record ghostly and hushed, with just an acoustic guitar with the lapping of waves in the background – Tucek talks of looking at a photo of her younger self (“fearless and full of life”) before drums kick in and the song segues into Amber Shades, a more straight-ahead rocker, complete with half-spoken, half-sung vocals. It’s a thrilling introduction to the album on which the Lou Reed influence is clear, and it’s even more explicit later on 13th Street #1, which has a guitar riff straight from Reed’s New York album (and even namechecks his song Coney Island Baby), revisiting her childhood haunts in Lower Manhattan and being shocked at the changes brought on by gentrification. It perfectly sums up the discomforting nostalgia that middle-age reminiscence can sometimes bring.
Some moments on Joan Of All are lighter, such as Make Up Your Mind’s lovely waltz melody, complete with marimba and harpsichord, while Something/Anything bursts into life straight from its opening guitar chord. Work slowly builds up from its quiet opening into a big, epic ballad reminiscent of Sharon Van Etten‘s finest moments, while the coda of Unmade/The Dog brings the lapping waves and change in musical direction that we first encountered at the start of the album.
Joan Of All isn’t an immediate album, and it’s probably not one to reach for a sugary pick-me-up either. Yet if you dedicate enough time to it, what emerges is a work of rare depth, craftsmanship and beauty. Sarabeth Tucek has been away for far too long, and hopefully we won’t have to wait anther 12 years for a follow-up to Joan Is All.