At first blush River Queen, the new release from pianist/singer-songwriter Sara Jackson-Holman, might be thought of as a departure from her past work. Really, though, it’s better seen as an arrival. Hinted at in her prior releases Cardiology (2012) and When You Dream (2010), with River Queen Jackson-Holman has gotten comfortable in her own skin.
This increased freedom and poise comes through on River Queen. Where Cardiology was an exploration of grief and loss, River Queen is a celebration of renewed empowerment – of finding strength in vulnerability, a willingness to fight, and of learning to love fully and without regret.
It was literally from out of the blue that Jackson-Holman was launched onto the national music scene. For the then 20 year-old Whitworth University piano and writing student from Bend, Oregon, nothing could have prepared her for the trajectory her life was about to take; propelling her from student life, to recording her first CD, to hearing her debut single "Into the Blue" (from When You Dream) close out the ABC hit show Castle in the emotional Season 2 finale, all in a matter of months.
Her journey began with a simple fan post Jackson-Holman left for Portland, Oregon based Indie-pop band Blind Pilot after one of their concerts. Fate smiled on Jackson-Holman, and when the president of Blind Pilot’s label heard her voice he was compelled to sign her, despite the fact that she didn't even have a formal demo.
Despite having been written when just out of her teens, Jackson-Holman's material on When You Dream is timeless, laced with classic themes of love and longing, forgetting and remembering, the sky and trees, and dreams of the sea. While Jackson-Holman may have been new to the music industry, she is a lifetime student of piano and a veteran classical performer. Her love of Chopin, Schumann and Bach is reflected in her affinity to minor, brooding tones and sense of musical structure. On this foundation, weightless strings and layers of warm and soulful melodies swell as they weave through each song.
Where the songs on When You Dream were intended to be universal and interpreted by the listener, Cardiology recounted a very personal journey, specific to the study of her own heart over the course of a year. It was during the year in which Cardiology was written that Jackson-Holman lost her grandfather; a big part of her musical upbringing. His death came as a shock, and was profoundly influential as she wrote the final songs for Cardiology.
River Queen is sonic palette of Jackson-Holman’s current creative bent. Slow, expansive ballads balance against hip-hop inflected upbeat tracks, all with a slight classical tinge and Jackson-Holman’s hallmark layered background vocals. “River Queen” is an exploration of vulnerability and control in relationships. The anthemic “Push Back” exhorts us to define ourselves on our own terms, while “Keep Score”, in its minimalist pianos and voice production, finds Jackson-Holman back at her roots. Each song stands on its own, and all come together in yet another triumphant
record by Jackson-Holman.
When the time came for Jackson-Holman to put the songs for River Queen to tape she returned to the familiar ground of Miracle Lake Studios in Camas, WA, where she’d recorded her two previous releases. Once again Skyler Norwood (Blind Pilot, Horse Feathers) co-produced and engineered, and while River Queen explores new ground it readily takes its place in Jackson-Holman’s ever-growing songbook. While Cardiology provides gentle solace for anyone suffering through loss, River Queen exhorts us all to move through the darkness to a place of light. “I want this record to fill people with happiness and hope” says Jackson-Holman. “I want them to dance and to fill with love.” One way or another, River Queen will set your heart pounding.