event::about SAHARA SMITH – MYTH OF THE HEART Sahara Smith is a natural. Or as the Austin Chronicle observes, “She's the real deal all right.” Don’t take our word for it. Listen to her debut album on Playing in Traffic Records, Myth of the Heart, and you’re bound to agree with the Dallas Morning News that “Smith is a revelation.” The disc is hailed as “a gorgeous album for all lovers of carefully chosen words, rich imagery and ethereal vocals” by Texas Music magazine and “a richly impressive, intensely soulful debut album,” by the Los Angeles Times. All that and more is to be savored on Myth of the Heart. It bows with the alluring “Thousand Secrets,” which opens a window on the vulnerable places we all have, as Smith writes, “For every broken branch there is a mile of fallen leaves/But no one knows the river flows a thousand miles deep.” Propulsive churning tracks like “Are You Lonely,” “The Real Thing” and “All I Need” make feelings of longing and desire palpable, while the up-tempo title song sings about resisting the urge to love. Meditative yet kinetic auras grace Smith’s reflections on being lost within love (“Tin Man Town”), empathy (“Angel”), mortality (“The World’s On Fire”) and life’s travails (the closing cut “Twilight Red,” which Smith wrote at age 13). And such songs as “Train Man,” “Midnight Plane” and “Mermaid” embody the notion of poetry in motion with their evocative images of travel and places near and far. The album was cut in primarily live sessions in Los Angeles, produced by Emile Kelman, known for his longtime work with T-Bone Burnett, who shepherded the recordings. The players include such regular Burnett associates as drummer Jay Bellerose, bassist Dennis Crouch and guitarist Marc Ribot, whose musicality bring both a deeply-rooted feel and contemporary imagination to the album. As the Los Angeles Times describes the disc, it’s lush with “Cinemascope-like wide-screen portraits of romantic passion, loneliness and unrequited love.” “Sahara is the best young artist I have heard in many years,” notes Burnett. And what seems at first blush like preternatural musical and lyrical maturity is as much the organic result of being all but weaned on fine artistry. Add to that the ineffable quality of magic. “To ascribe [an] old-soul narrative would do a bit of a disservice to Smith, whose ethereal voice and sound comes less from a place of experience beyond her years and more, seemingly, from some other universe entirely,” posits the Austin American-Statesman. Born in Austin, Texas and raised in the nearby Hill Country town of Wimberley, Smith is the daughter of a playwright mother and a father who’s a jeweler by profession as well as a sculptor and painter. In her infancy the music of classical composers like Beethoven, Mozart and Rachmaninoff played in the home, and “my dad was singing me really strange lullabies like ‘Long Black Veil’ and ‘Lily of the West’ and ‘El Paso,’” Smith recalls. Celtic music and fellow Texas born and raised singer/songwriter Nanci Griffith were also among the musical fare she heard in her formative years. An avid reader from an early age, Smith wrote her first poem at age three. While in second grade one of her works was published in the Anthology of Poetry for Young Americans. On her eighth birthday her father got her a guitar and showed her some chords, and she was soon composing songs. At 10 years old her uncle gave Sahara a collection of Shakespeare comedies “and we would act out the parts together,” she recalls. Not long after her mother played her Simon & Garfunkel’s The Concert in Central Park while they were riding in the car, and Smith experienced an epiphany that centered the music she was creating in a realm that felt right. “I wrote pop songs before that, but that triggered me writing sort of folk songs,” Smith explains. “I’m more rooted in the folk tradition than anything else.” Then a greatest hits collection of Leonard Cohen’s early recordings “just changed everything I thought about songwriting,” recalls Smith. “It was pure poetry but it was also accessible, relatable and structured. It made me realize that you don’t have to simplify the way you express your emotions as long as it’s recognizable that there are universal elements of truth to them. I try to utilize that in my songwriting and think about what emotion a certain image will conjure and create the feeling of the song through imagery.” Her music also became informed by Tom Waits, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, classic country artists like Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, and seminal Texas singer- songwriters like Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. Plus contemporary acts such as Radiohead, Wilco, The Shins and Tegan and Sara. “I think what I do takes all those influences into consideration,” notes Smith. In her early teens Smith started playing open mike nights at local coffeehouses and a restaurant, and quickly landed two regular weekly gigs. When she was 14, her father urged her to send a tape of her songs to “A Prairie Home Companion” for a “Talent from Twelve to Twenty” contest spotlighting young musicians. Smith was chosen to compete on the nationally aired radio show, which she confesses was “terrifying.” One thing that did still her nerves was the presence of its host. “I'd been listening to Garrison Keillor since I was really tiny,” she explains. “My parents would put on his monologues as a way to make me go to sleep. That's how soothing his voice and personality were. “I was really positive after the first round I wasn’t going to be called out again, so I put my guitar away,” recalls Smith. “When they called me back out for the second round I had to retune my guitar as I walked out onstage.” She came in second in the competition. The “Prairie Home Companion” contest also won Smith her Austin-based managers: Rosalyn Rosen and Kevin Wommack. Rosen, a close friend of Smith’s mother, heard it and then played her appearance for Wommack. Duly impressed, they caught one of Smith’s hometown gigs and eventually signed on to manage her. By her late teens Smith was meeting with and being considered by a number of record labels. “We thought about who we would want to get to produce the album and just sort of unanimously agreed that T Bone Burnett would be the best,” says Smith. “So my manager just kind of on a whim sent him my MySpace page and he asked us if we could fly up to Los Angeles so he could meet us. So we went to L.A. and recorded a couple of demos at his studio. One of his engineers, Emile Kelman, was just beginning to branch out and do some production of his own, so Emile produced the project and T-Bone oversaw the project and we used a lot of the same people from the Robert Plant [and] Alison Krauss Raising Sand album. I think it just wound up being really magical.” Music critics obviously agree. “A hybrid of folk, Americana, country and bluegrass, Myth of the Heart makes good on Smith's promise,” says the Austin American-Statesman. “Melodic and often heartbreaking, it's an assured debut, an elaborately painted canvas anchored by Smith's poetic songwriting and otherworldly voice.” The Los Angeles Times notes how from the very first song, Myth of the Heart “quickly places this 21-year-old in the Emmylou Harris-Alison Krauss camp of country-rock singers of exquisite tastefulness.” In addition to the complimentary musical comparisons, Smith’s lyrics have been likened as well by the media to such iconic poets as T.S. Eliot and Emily Dickinson. Blessed with a becoming modesty, Smith says of her songs, “What I’m trying to do is create music that anybody can listen to. And even if they don’t interpret it that same way that I do, they still interpret it in a way that’s meaningful to them.” As the Dallas Morning News insists of Myth of the Heart, “Pay attention to this one.” For it’s the first winning and assured step in what is sure to be a long and satisfying musical journey to come.