In my usual fashion of delivering late-breaking news after it’s already past late and broken, I want to introduce you to Sarah MacIntosh and her new album The Waiters, The Watchers, The Listeners, The Keepers, and Me.
You may know of Sarah from her short time as lead vocalist and guitarist for Chasing Furies, a band she started with two of her siblings. The band capitalized on Sarah’s powerful voice with an indie rock / shoegaze sound, winning loads of critics to their side but breaking up in about a year.
Well, Sarah is back, after almost a decade, with a solo album she says captures a question she asked herself before producing it: “If someone were to sit down and talk with me, what would they hear me saying?” The Waiters, The Watchers, The Listeners, The Keepers, and Me is what came out.
To be honest, one of the main reasons I’ve waited so long to post about Sarah’s new album is that it hasn’t grabbed me yet. When I first popped it in, it seemed somewhat repetitive and underwhelming. I was hoping that, over time, it would grow on me, and I would be able to leave a more positive review, but my opinion hasn’t really changed. To be sure, the album isn’t bad and there’s plenty to praise, but it seems a lot like what’s already been done before to me.
Since I really like Sarah’s heart and I think a lot of what I don’t like on the album is from the producer more than the band, I want to leave you with a good impression of her. So I’ll start with the bad stuff first. Even though Sarah’s got a great voice and the album clearly sets out to showcase it, the album as a whole downplays the instrumental side of things too much. I get it that the producer is focusing on her voice, but the music could have been a little more interesting. It feels a little like the kid who says, “I wanna sit next to the dumb kid in class so I look smarter.” Sarah’s got a great voice, but why does the album need to downplay the music to show it off?
I would have liked the album to take one of two directions musically. On the one hand, I would like more creative bass, guitar, and drum parts, maybe some extra instruments thrown in just for fun, to satisfy those who listen to more than the vocals… Or I would like a complete scaled-down approach musically, to focus almost entirely on Sarah’s vocals, like Johnny Cash’s Rick Rubin-produced albums. As the album stands now, it feels like the producer wanted to capitalize on Sarah’s voice but wouldn’t take enough risks to really make it stand out. It feels stuck between being an album about Sarah’s voice and an album about the band.
Not every song is lacking in musical creativity. “Too Much” is a fun, jazzy, rambling jaunt with some cool guitar parts, tambourine, and a beat that sets it apart. “Just Tell Me” also has a fun poppish guitar riff throughout the song. “Sunshine” has a cool little instrumental interlude. “Father” follows a scaled-down approach musically, which I think makes both the instruments and the vocals stand out more… But overall the music follows tried-and-true pop methods without often venturing beyond that formula, which is a shame, because whenever the album does, I can hear a ton of potential there. I just wanna see them bust through more often. (For evidence that they can be totally awesome musically, check out this YouTube video. See the potential?)
Lyrically, things are similar to most CCM artists. Positive, encouraging, family-friendly – all good things. Nothing totally new here, but I do get built up and encouraged by the songs, which often have a worship flare to them. One thing she’s really great at is inspiring worship through her lyrics. When I listen to songs like “My Jesus,” “Father,” and “Where You’ll Find Him,” I just wanna worship God.
This brings up a good point here – if you take the album as a worship album, it’s really good. I guess it should be, since she and her husband Jonathan (who plays guitar on the album) both lead worship at Horizon Christian Fellowship in San Diego.
About the songwriting, Sarah says, “These songs have been bubbling up inside me for quite some time now. Recently there have been towering highs and plummeting lows in my life, all of which have been carefully guarded by my Savior, Jesus. It’s these things that have been written about on scraps of paper, tattered journals, and my faithful Mac. They have finally come out of my mouth in melody.”
She also has stated, “I believe we are here on this earth to worship God, and to lead other people to Him. As far as I know, the best way that I can do both of these things is through music.” So, even though I feel like the entire album is just okay with lots of potential to be amazing (if they’d be willing to break some CCM “rules”), I love what she’s trying to do.
If you’re looking for a solid new, CCM-influenced female artist who’s awesome at worship music, check her out. She rarely strays from standard forms and will never cause you to say, “What on earth does ‘palanquin’ mean?!” or “What sort of animal had to give its life to produce a noise like that?” but she will try her best to inspire you to love God.
Enjoy these two songs:
Extra Stuff to Check Out:
Check out an article about Sarah on Sloppy Noodle here.
Read a glowing Christianity Today review of the album here.
Check out a sweet video of the band performing Sunshine here.
Note: All MP3s will be removed after one week