Sarah Beth Driver hails from Baltimore, Maryland. Though having played guitar since she was 12 years old, her new EP Letters is the first time any of her songs have been recorded or released, which blows me away right from the start. Driver describes this collection as “unique pop-rock songs that wrestle with the highs and lows of everyday life… bright, carefully-crafted tunes draw inspiration from the spirit of power-pop, the energy of rock and the inner-curiosity of post-punk.” Having amassed a backlog of songs over 10 years, Driver chose the four tracks on this EP as among her best, and they felt like a natural grouping.
Recording took place at a home studio during the Covid Summer of 2020. Driver and friend Carl Pfansteihl arranged and produced the songs one instrument at a time, with the sounds of the songs developing slowly over the recording process. “Carl and I had an idea of what we thought the individual songs should sound like, but were surprised at the completion of each track. All the songs revealed an extra layer that neither of us thought was there. The result is four songs exploring the ins and outs of love. Beginnings and ends, lots of questions and a couple of answers.”
Recording took place on Pro Tools, with each song completed in the order they appear. Mixing was by Baltimore’s Randy Smith, with mastering by Tyler Lefebvre.
“Letters From Mars” is a song that quickly grabs your lapels and makes you dance. Indie pop electric guitars frame Driver’s voice, which is sweet but powerful, questioning and assertive. Driver says that she “wanted to write a song about being young before I got too old. In my mind, this song is about the last Summer before college, when the nights are warm. A person feels safe, but free, and it seems the world is yours for the taking. However, the future looms, and while you want to live in the moment, it's hard not to think about the future.”
“Happens 2” is a bit more acoustic-heavy, with electric guitar acting as a sort of musical Greek Chorus: not lead exactly, but semi-improvised lines that draw out and complement the chord structure. Driver’s voice here reminds me of Twitter indie star Sophie Dorsten, with much of that same sweetness and authority.
“Remember Me” is a slower tune from the Beatles Rubber Soul school. Driver’s vocal is sincere and matter-of-fact. I love how she generally sings higher in the chorus, which sets apart and emphasizes those lyrics. There’s possibly more background vocals here than before, which add a sweet and enveloping quality. The horn patches also recall the Beatles in their Mystery Tour phase.
“Say Hello” ends the set with a jazzy shuffle, with Driver leading what sounds like a roomful of players from a vocal classic released in the late ‘60s. I can easily imagine this is one of the songs Driver found surprising when it was done, as it sounds as far from one person in a bedroom as you can get. She handles the lead and backing vocals with all the aplomb we’ve come to expect.
A short but satisfying set that portends great things from this new artist!
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