Music News & Reviews

Singer Sarah Jaffe says OK to computers but no to pop mindlessness

Dallas’ Sarah Jaffe started with an acoustic folk-pop sound that fits most people’s ideas of “Texas singer-songwriter.” Then orchestral string accompaniment led to the synths and distorted electric guitar on Jaffe’s 2012 album “The Body Wins.” Jaffe’s new album, “Don’t Disconnect,” is heavily electronic and due in August.

Constant in her evolving sound have been Jaffe’s keen melodic sense and ingratiating voice. Breathy yet full of emotional depth, that voice’s confiding quality compels regardless of production bells and whistles, or lack thereof.

Jaffe, 28, attributes her musical evolution, from her self-released 2008 debut EP to now, partly to natural artistic curiosity and exploration.

“If you have been playing music (regularly) … it is impossible not to progress in some sort of fashion, in some way,” Jaffe said last week by phone before a show in Austin, Texas. Friday, she will perform at Sacramento’s Ace of Spades nightclub, opening for symphonic rock group the Polyphonic Spree.

More practical matters also come into play.

“It takes money to make a record,” Jaffe said. In 2008, her production budget did not extend much beyond her voice and guitar.

Jaffe was used to doing it herself. She began playing guitar at age 9, writing songs soon after. As a teenager, she sought club gigs in Dallas. “That was back when you would burn a CD” to send to club owners, Jaffe said.

To a 28-year-old, that’s ancient history. So, too, might be Sarah Jaffe records with inexpensive production values.

Signed by Texas’ Kirtland Records (the Polyphonic Spree are label mates) in 2009, Jaffe is just coming off another career break. Jaffe and Dallas producer S1 – who together use the prophetic handle The Dividends – collaborated on a track that became part of Eminem’s song “Bad Guy,” off his “The Marshall Mathers LP 2,” released late last year.

“S1 asked me if I would be interested in writing” a hook, said Jaffe, who also sings the chorus of “Bad Guy.” “It ended up working out great.”

Jaffe’s musical graduation from winsome folk-pop to bass-heavy club elements is not uncommon today. It might even be called Swiftian, in honor of the one-time country darling who now dabbles in dubstep.

But Jaffe, who will be part of a four-piece on stage at Ace of Spades, counts musical influences that go further back, to a few decades before Taylor Swift was born. Jaffe’s favorites are Serge Gainsbourg and Harry Nilsson, melodic masters unafraid to experiment in the studio.

Though Jaffe’s recent material offers more musical bounce and propulsion, her lyrics remains as thoughtful and searching as they were in folkier days. A good example is “Ride It Out” off “Don’t Disconnect.”

Though it sounds club-ready from first listen, its lyrics hardly are throw-your-hands-up-in-the-air carefree: “Running out of money, reaping what I sow, nowhere to hide on this logical plateau. Gonna have to ride it out.”

Regardless of genre, “I could never (sing) something over and over that I didn’t feel some sort of connection with,” Jaffe said.