Sarah Mary Chadwick

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Eating for Two (2012), 7/10
9 Classic Tracks (2015) , 5/10
Roses Always Die (2016) , 6/10
Sugar Still Melts in Rain (2018) , 5/10
Queen Who Stole the Sky (2019) , 5/10
Please Daddy (2020) , 5/10
Me and Ennui Are Friends Baby (2021) , 5/10

New Zealand's singer-songwriter Sarah Mary Chadwick formed the grunge band Batrider with guitarist Julia McFarlane, bassist Toby Morris, and drummer Tara Wilcox. They debuted with the EPs They Said You're Hideous (2004), The Take Me Back (2006) and Pink Guitars Yellow Stars (2007) and then released three albums: Tara (2007), Why We Can't Be Together (2009) and Piles of Lies (2011).

Chadwick debuted solo with the spartan, folk-ish Eating for Two (2012). Despite the fact that she's alone with her guitar, she manages to create a band experience in songs like the drunk singalong Mostly Mostly and the punkish Knots Unwind, which evokes the spirit of the "riot grrrrls". If those are the highlights, songs like Fools Like Me and Is It Tonight are concentrates of anguish, and the moribund The Longest Road and Shards border on suicidal. Steffo replaces the guitar with a harmonium for even more poignant results, and Don't Try it all dialogues with an anemic accordion.

9 Classic Tracks (2015) abandoned the guitar for the keyboards, and her tone feels less visceral, less anguished. On the other hand an almost religious feeling emanates from Ask Walt and especially I'm God I'm Fate. The pastoral melody of Same Old Fires could be from the Simon & Garfunkel songbook, despite the inept drum-machine. An electronic drumbeat also propels Am I Worth It and Aquarius Gemini, and it's not a plus. It also surfaces halfway into the dilated seven-minute meditation I'm Like An Apple With No Skin, when the electronic arrangement begins to soar.

Roses Always Die (2016) returns to a spartan (guitar-less) setting with the somnolent Yunno What, the stark and slow The Fire That Torched My Fear, the almost gospel Right Now I'm Running, songs that are as devoid of arrangements as they are full of pathos. The songs with drumbeat generally sag, so that The Man and the Flags sounds like a missed opportunity, and Every Year's The Same is saved by a touching melody and an almost sobbing delivery.

She finally drafted a drummer and a bassist to complement her piano on Sugar Still Melts in Rain (2018) All her litanies now sound like martial proclamations, from Flow Over Me to Bauble On A Chain, from Sugar Still Melts in Rain to Felt My Heart Several, however, are piano elegies with no rhythm section, like Wind Wool.

The Queen Who Stole the Sky (Inertia, 2019), recorded live on a century-old pipe organ, contains the shouted Confetti, drowned in massive organ chords, and the hymn-like The Queen Who Stole the Sky.

She was backed by a rhythm section, trumpet and flute on Please Daddy (Sinderlyn, 2020). The result is bombastic torch ballads like When Will Death Come, Please Daddy, If I Squint and All Lies (the emotional peak) that, alas, display her vocal limitations. There are even a country/bluegrass hoedown Let's Fight and the Neil Young-esque Nothing Sticks The highlight (next to All Lies) is perhaps the humbler but stately Make Hey.

Me and Ennui Are Friends Baby (Ba Da Bing, 2021) marks instead a retreat to the format of the piano ballad but the material is clearly inferior, or at least not very musical. Her vocals are limited, and her piano playing is even more limited. Let's Go Home packs a bit of fury, Every Loser Needs a Mother has a refrain that sounds like a nursery rhyme, and Don't Like You Talking is slightly hypnotic, but mostly the album is a monotonous experience. The operatic, expressionistic-era That Feeling Like stands out. It's not the only song where she seems to mock century-old styles.

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