Fireflies and Songs
Artist: Sara Groves
Label: INO / Sponge Records
Time: 11 tracks / 41:03
God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take which you please - you can never have both. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Sara Groves is the hidden treasure of the Christian music industry. Well, not really hidden, but perhaps under-appreciated. A wonderfully gifted songwriter, appealing vocalist, poetic and insightful lyricist, and skilled musician, Sara has produced – with amazing consistency – a body of work that has never lacked for quality songwriting, good production, and even pop appeal. That the dependably solid Groves is not a superstar is more an indication of the general public’s need for bells and whistles than anything else. It’s not easy to market Truth – and truth (with or without a capital ‘T’) is what Sara Groves deals with most of the time. Like the Emerson quote suggests, Sara has chosen the less-travelled path on her musical journey.
With no agenda other than her producer’s suggestion to ‘enjoy God and songwriting,’ Sara has looked inside and – not surprisingly – found corners of the soul common to all of us. Fireflies and Songs looks at relationships, emotions, and life-issues with a mixture of hope and melancholy that touches the soul on multiple levels. Although the point of view is certainly Christian, the songs are not preachy or condescending - these are songs that have a universal appeal.
The first track on Fireflies and Songs is a preview of the insight into the human condition and the personal transparency that sets her work above and apart from so much of the simplistic, slogan-filled songs that basically preach to the choir and alienate the rest. Sara sings about universal life experience with an affectionate nod to the innocence of youth but a knowing satisfaction in the reality of day-to-day life as an adult. From the opening track, “Different Kind of Happy,” she sings: “Better than our promises / is the day we got to keep them / I wish those two could see us now / they never would believe how / there are different kinds of happy…”
This is an album full of wise, introspective songs that feature a James Taylor/early Joni Mitchell kind of gentle pop/jazz sensibility. Looking at life through the eyes of a wife and mother, yet observing the human condition so clearly, and with such keen spiritual insight, Groves gives us an album for fans of any age or gender, although it will be especially meaningful for those who’ve moved past the preliminaries of life and are somewhere in the middle of the Main Event (trust me on this, guys. Given half a chance and a good listening, these songs will get to you, too. You’ve been warned….).
Stylistically simple, somewhat low-key and certainly thoughtful, Fireflies and Songs does feature a couple of tracks that are more-or-less pop tunes (the title track, and “Eyes Wide Open”) as well as the delightfully pop-country “Setting up the Pins,” which Shania Twain would probably trade in her favorite pair of cowgirl boots to cover.
The voice and piano of Sara Groves are the heart of each track, and producer Charlie Peacock has wisely allowed that feeling to permeate the project, even though the core back-up band – Ben Gowell on guitars, Aaron Fabbrini on bass, and Zach Miller on drums – do a fine job of creating a warm ‘house band’ style that pulls things all together under the same musical roof. Augmented by the likes of Scott Dente and the ubiquitous Jerry McPherson (guitars), David Davidson and Matt Slocum (strings), and Peacock himself on keyboards and various additional instruments, the musical vision remains purely Sara Groves: a smart move on Peacock’s part.
With songs that feature subjects as diverse as brushing your teeth (“Setting up the Pins”) to openness in the face of fear (“Eyes Wide Open”), Sara takes us on a guided tour of the soul, revealing nobility, fear, pain, embracing of truth, and yes – denial of truth. “I’ve got layers of lies that I don’t even know about yet,” she confesses in “Eyes Wide Open.”
The painfully honest, “It’s Me,” exposes the bone of communication issues between husband and wife, and how often we forget the boy and girl deep inside. The lyrics are probing and ultimately healing in their insight, and Sara’s plaintive vocal, delivered with longing and honesty, shows why we love to keep coming back to her work. There’s substance here.
To paraphrase Mohammed Ali: Sara might float like a Firefly but she stings like a bee.
Sara Groves is at her best when writing songs about her own life and experiences, and her latest album, Fireflies and Songs, is a return to that form. Lyrically, it may be her finest output since Conversations, and musically, it brings to mind some of the best work of Sarah MacLauchlan and Shawn Colvin.
“Different Kind of Happy” emphasizes our need for community with such lines as “There’s redemption in confession,” and “sharing our secrets, baring our souls…” Small group leaders everywhere should adopt this song about the “each others” as a promotional item. “Fireflies and Songs” is about childhood memories, and the lush string arrangement indicates the level of thought that was given to the soundtrack.
“Twice as Good” revisits community and relationships, as the protagonists “raise our hearts to share each other’s burdens,” and speaks of things being “half as hard and twice as good.” “Setting Up the Pins,” an Americana type tune, finds meaning in the mundane. “From This One Place” is about trusting when everything seems unclear.
“Eyes Wide Open” is a battle against the world’s standards:
Tell me what I wantI’ve never been displeased with a Groves album, but some stand out more than others. Fireflies and Songs is one of them.
Brian A. Smith