Paula Sinclair
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Paula Sinclair

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A review written for the Folk and Acoustic Music Exchange
by Frank Gutch Jr.

http://www.acousticmusic.com/fame/p04286.htm

When Paula Sinclair fell into the dreaded black hole which visits most creative forces on occasion, she must have felt like her musical days were over. Blessed with a voice made for song, she still could have carved out a living, but she obviously is not one to just interpret or mouth other people's works. Anyone who knows or has heard her knows what a force she can be. So when she hit the brick wall, to her all seemed lost, if only for a short time.

Luckily, the brick wall hit back. One day, she found that she need not do everything herself. While consoling herself with poetry, the music magically began to flow, strangely enough, with the words and phrases. A few months later, she walked into a recording studio to lay down a bare bones version of what was to become The Good Horse. With only guitar and voice, she lay out song after song—a poet's words and her music creating a new whole.

Not long after, Sinclair headed into 8 Ball Studio and came out with an album capable of not only destroying the black hole, but putting her on a different and satisfying path—satisfying for herself and for those lucky enough to discover her music. Patently inspired by the works of William Stafford, Dorian Laux and others, she throws herself into an odd collaboration, taking their words and her music into a world laden with roots, both folk and country, and coming out the other end with a gem. This is dirt-under-your-fingernails folk and losing-your-mind country at its best, and the fact that Sinclair left lyrics to poets takes nothing away. The stories told and the emotions felt say it all with a refreshing honesty, and Sinclair's music—have I said refreshing and honest?

The package does not hurt, either. Rather than leave you with just the finished product, she includes that bare bones disc to give you insight into the creative process. And let me tell you, it's quite a jump from acoustic guitar and voice (a very nice disc and one I prefer in my more solemn moments) to the full session completed product. The music, straddling folk and country beautifully, comes alive as Uncle Tumbleweed lays itself out with its guitar/bass/pedal steel/keyboard/drums structure, fleshing out theme after theme. Putting Sinclair's voice on top is like putting butter on toast—a combination hard to beat.

Not many could put together a project of such depth with the touch Sinclair gives this. She has talent way beyond her voice. She knows things. Deep things. Dark things. Wonderful and maybe not so wonderful things. The fact remains, she knows. I can tell.


- Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange (FAME)


MARCH 19, 2008
by Jennifer Hernandez

This two-disc CD had its genesis when a devastated Paula Sinclair attempted to get her creative juices flowing after she lost "the love of her life" ... her band, Bloodhoney. The result, The Good Horse, is a beautiful and unique artistic partnership between the Portland-based singer-songwriter and five award-winning Oregon poets. With an alt-country musical style and an earthy voice that sounds like a cross between Lucinda Williams and Joan Baez, Sinclair is one of the best artists you've probably never heard of. While trying to literally restore her voice, which gave out after Bloodhoney's demise, Sinclair discovered her gift for extracting the emotion from a well-written poem and setting its essence and imagery to music. The album is based solely on pieces from some of Oregon's most notable writers. The title song is a William Stafford poem about a circus horse, with music that emulates the feeling of a merry-go-round. "Uncle Tumbleweed" is a slow country rocker that captures the soul of Jarold Ramsey's verse about a wind-blown tumbleweed ... or is it a rambling relative? Works by Dorainne Laux, Joseph Miller and Debbie West also benefit from Sinclair's deft, melodic touch. Both CDs contain the same songs; disc one is raw solo acoustic, and disc two is fully backed and polished.

- The Boise Weekly


Friday, October 19, 2007
DON CAMPBELL
The Oregonian

For poets and songwriters, there is great power in the word. Portland singer-songwriter Paula Sinclair (pictured), a transplanted Kentuckian, has released a project that will thrill poets and listeners alike.

Battling a severe case of writer's block, and at the urging of a close friend, Sinclair offers "The Good Horse," a 10-song self-produced project using the potent verse of notable poets William Stafford, Dorianne Laux, Joseph Millar, Debbie West and Jarold Ramsey against her plaintive and simple original folk music.

Two things stand out. First, the genesis of the two-CD project. It's not unprecedented to set poetry to music, but Sinclair's organic approach let the poems feed and distinctly color her original music.

Second, Sinclair lets her audience in on the song-creation process, offering one CD of her simple acoustic-guitar-and-voice renditions of the cuts, then expanding the scope on the second CD with full productions, rendered in the capable hands of producer Rob Stroup at his 8 Ball Studios.

Sinclair moves ably among folk songs, waltzes, gritty rockers and ballads. Standouts include the antique tinge of "The Good Horse" (words by Stafford), the Spanish burn of "Love Pirates" (Miller) and the insistent grit of "Dust" (Laux).

Literate stuff, set to a sweet and melancholy sound bed.

- The Oregonian


[This letter was sent to Paula by Kim Stafford, son of the late, great U.S. Poet Laureate William Stafford, upon hearing his father's poetry put to music and sung by Paula).

Dear Paula Sinclair,

I am brought to abundant tears by what you have done with my father's poems. Thank you. You see clear to the heart of the words, and your way with a phrase, a brief plateau of recognition, a knowing slide into the inevitable- these are humbling to me, Thank you for so purely being who you are with the words of my father.

The other songs are similarly wondrous. Thank you for this gift.

Kim Stafford

- KimStafford


REVIEWS OF PAULA SINCLAIR’S STEADY GIRL

Jeff Rosenberg, Willamette Week: March 25, 2009
Try describing the sound of your favorite singer’s voice. Tricky, huh? Writers often compare singers to other, better-known ones because it’s easy, and even the best vocalists betray their influences: similar phrasing here, a borrowed inflection there. But Portlander Paula Sinclair thoroughly disarms that critical commonplace, because no other voice I know sounds quite like hers. It’s a lived-in, grown-up instrument—deep and sturdy, with a fine grain to the finish, and long notes sustained into a vibrato that quavers like a hummingbird’s wing.

Sinclair’s new collection, Steady Girl, matches that vocal clarity to a clear-eyed creative vision; it’s almost a concept album, portraying a resilient woman steeled by sadness but defiantly guarding her heart. Sinclair and returning producer Rob Stroup, who also sings simpatico harmony, round up a stellar backing band, featuring gifted stringed-instrument wielders Tim Ellis, Tony Furtado, Paul Brainard and Arthur Parker. Keyboardist Jean-Pierre Garau, amazingly, coaxes fresh tones from his Hammond B-3 organ and Drew Shoals’ supple drumming sensitively underpins the songs.

Each track on Steady Girl (five written by Sinclair alone) stands comfortably alongside a sped-up cover of Steve Earle’s “Fearless Heart.” The record contains only three ballads, but they’re weighty ones: the statement-of-purpose title track, and devastating chronicles of dissipating relationships in “Drifting” and “Something Blue.” A couple of midtempo numbers, like the nostalgic “Blue-Eyed Kentucky Boy” add a nice country touch, while the rockers are fist-pumping singalongs, especially when the stutter-step pre-chorus of “Medicine Burn” opens up into the rollicking chorus.

Sinclair’s recent work adapting poems to music has heightened her lyrics’ verbal precision, inspiring striking, counterintuitive images—silence, for example, likened to an avalanche in “Drifting.” Meanwhile, her humor shows in homespun truisms like the one that closes the disc: “You can’t satisfy your sweet tooth with just one sin.” Listeners disappointed by Lucinda Williams’ recent records should point their car wheels down this outstanding album’s gravel road.


Paul Hollingsworth, 411mania.com: March 26, 2009
The country music of today has become so overproduced and over thought that it only superficially bears any resemblance to the musical roots of pioneers like Hank Williams, Patsy Cline or Tennessee Ernie Ford . If you listen to any country radio stations, you're not likely to hear anything that would seem out of place on Top 40 pop radio. Thankfully, musicians like the Kentucky born Paula Sinclair are quite comfortable returning to the origins of country music, which has, from the very beginning, dealt almost exclusively with love and its aftermath.

Sinclair's voice has a strength which commands attention. From the first few lines of album opener, "Something Sweeter", it's clear you're no longer in the land of contemporary country. The majority of modern country singers are vanilla-voiced, all sound the same and do their best to remove all traces of country drawl from their voices. Not so with Sinclair, who immediately sounds like she must come from Kentucky, much like fellow Kentucky native Loretta Lynn. Her voice can reach angelic heights, but you can tell the heights were reached only after several descents into the depths.

The second song, a cover of county music heavyweight Steve Earle's "Fearless Heart" further shows the range Sinclair can reach. It's an ambitious attempt to cover such a well-known song, and Sinclair shows herself capable of the task. While Earle's version was self-confident and assured, Sinclair infuses the song with a trace of vulnerability and doubt. You're left wondering, if Sinclair is indeed, 'strong enough to get you through the scary part.’ Covers only work when they add a layer or a texture to the original song, and Sinclair, using the same words and a nearly identical arrangement, adds a feeling of hurt and helplessness absent from the original.

Sinclair glides effortlessly through the album between classic country tunes, ("Steady Girl"), bluegrass ("Blue-Eyed Kentucky Boy") and back again ("Sweet Tooth"). "Sweet Tooth" in particular, wouldn't sound out of place on an Emmylou Harris record from the 70's. However, because everything in music these days must have a label, Sinclair will probably be saddled with the title of alt-country. Alt-country is nothing more than traditional country, and the 'alt' prefix will probably scare off more than a few people, who associate anything 'alt' as containing lots of screaming, flannel or wailing guitars. Alt-country is a misnomer. There's nothing 'alt' about this record, as it's just straight ahead country, without any of the pop pretenses of contemporary country.

"When A Heart Breaks" is my favorite track on the album. Sinclair knows how to write a traditional country song, and her lyrics on this one are especially poignant.
'You smiled and you told me/ Sometimes things don't work out/You said we had some good times/But the good times ran out/Stood there in silence though I thought I might shout/But baby when a heart breaks it don't make a sound.'

Unlike whatever drivel you might hear on the radio, you get the distinct impression that Sinclair has had this experience, that's she writing the lyrics from an (almost) fond memory. The music, the lyrics and Sinclair's voice all combine to create a very moving, fluid account of the end of a relationship, and it’s the sort of song which everyone can relate to. Musicians often give lip service to being 'true' or 'honest' and 'open' with their songs. Sometimes, as in this case, they don't have to speak it, because each image, each lyric rings true the first time you hear it.

Last week, I reviewed Neko Case's latest album, and I can't help but notice the similarities. Both women are classified as 'alt-country', both have strong song writing skills, and both are obviously very talented. The only real difference I can find is that Neko has name recognition while Sinclair, outside of her current home of Oregon, does not. There are songs on each album which could fit comfortably on the other. If you liked what you heard with Neko, you'll be well served to give Sinclair a listen as well.


Tim Wardyn, ink19.com, April 2009
Paula Sinclair is what country music should be. On her latest, Steady Girl, Sinclair adds a hint of alt-country to her countrified voice and makes love and heartache sound even better.

Sinclair sounds a lot like a young Reba McEntire on her cover of Steve Earle's "Fearless Heart," while the title track has her at her musically dreamy best.

On "Something Sweeter," she explores what the future has in store in a more optimistic tone as she sings "I'm looking forward to falling in love deeper." She counters that yin with the yang of "When a Heart Breaks" and the solitary feeling of loneliness. "Oh, once I was hopeful, my heart used to pound/ But now that it's broke, it don't make a sound."

Steady Girl is a great alt-country album that should shoot Paula Sinclair into the spotlight, if country radio can get past the manufactured country-pop and see an artist with real talent that deserves national attention.


Damon, adequacynet.com (indie music reviews), April 16, 2009
The rich alt-country of Steady Girl could fit comfortably in the rotation at your local country radio station. The album calls attention to Paula Sinclair’s honest reflections, and her earthy vocals would be a nice counterpoint to the glossier stylings of artists like Carrie Underwood.

Sinclair works out of Portland, Oregon. Although the singer has a hearty folk streak in her, the music on Steady Girl is far more country than alternative. Still, the album should appeal to a wide, albeit mature, audience. She shares many of the strengths of Lucinda Williams.

Sinclair’s country inflections are incited more by uptempo songs. Her mature voice enjoys the company of a slide guitar, dojo, banjo, pedal steel guitar, mandolin, Hammond B3, piano, bass, and drums. There is no denying the strong musicianship, but the commercially crafted employment of these instruments bears the scent of hired studio musicians. Thankfully, there is no disconnect between the artist and the music.

Lyrics focus on themes of loneliness, wanting, and the quiet confidence that comes with knowing yourself. When Sinclair sings about love, she adopts realistic–sometimes lowered–expectations. Any trace of cynicism is checked by a silver lining.

Steady Girl pulls off the delicate maneuver of sounding consistent while offering a variety of themes, vocal inflections, moods, and tempos. Opening track “Something Sweeter” gives occasional hints of the potential power behind Sinclair’s voice — a power she never exploits. This track brings a full sound with the vocal and country rock electric guitar up front and sounding crisp.

One of the album’s best tracks, “Drifting”, is a slow ballad about lovers grown apart. Sinclair offers the slightly ambiguous lyric, “Is it true they once were like me and you? / They looked into each other’s heart and thought they knew / that the promises made would be kept until their dying day / Nothing, no one, would ever stand in their way / But now they’re drifting … ” Is she enjoying the strength of her own relationship compared to that of the failing lovers’, or is she lamenting the fact that this is the likely fate of all young love? In context, my money is on the latter. A melancholic and mourning slide guitar shines on “Something Blue”, a sleepless late night ballad. At over five and a half minutes, the song runs a bit long, but still wins for having the undeniably rootsy country lyric, “You walk in circles and you walk in silence, and you make good dreams for what you lack / Something old, something new, something old, and something blue / Of these only one is true, and it’s always been something blue”.

Not every track is a winner. A few songs have that predictably formulaic, commercially over-sweetened sound plaguing so much of the lesser quality music found on the dial today. “Even If I Fall” and “Looking for Love” tread such waters.

But, overall, Steady Girl is a solid album built on Paula Sinclair’s strengths. Sure, you’re listening to something your mom would like–usually a no-no–but you’re also seeing the value of her honest personal expressions and the carefully crafted but restrained instrumentation.


Jerry Henry, Planet Weekly, April 20, 2009
I listened to Neko Case's and Paula Sinclair's new releases on the same day. Why Paula Sinclair doesn't have the name recognition that Neko Case has, is beyond me. Both are some of alt-country's best. Paula is a Kentucky girl based out of Oregon. She is the real deal; the broken- hearted country woman that tells you about it in a country song. Paula has the voice that can deliver. The release is Steady Girl (Old Sombrero Music); her fourth. This album is a collection of songs mostly written by Paula. She does cover Steve Earles' "Fearless Heart" and does a great job


Gary Whitehouse, greenmanreview.com, March 2009
Impressive emotional range, from sweet to sassy, vulnerable to tough. On this album she sings 10 songs she wrote or co-wrote with manager Rob Barteletti, plus one by Steve Earle.
Earle's song, "Fearless Heart," is the second track, and it fits neatly with its companions. On this mid-tempo folksy country-rock song, she almost talk-sings the final verse and comes off sounding closer to a female Merle Haggard than to Steve Earle.

The arrangements on all of the songs, courtesy of producer Rob Stroup, are excellent, each one providing an appropriate setting for the song's lyrics and feel. That goes for the opener, "Something Sweeter," with lots of twang and hot licks from Tony Furtado, as well as the title track, which is a slow atmospheric number with piano, long droning notes from what might be pedal steel and deep tom-tom rhythm. Portland's Paul Brainard provides lovely pedal steel on several songs, including "Drifting," a slow honky-tonk ballad, and the similarly slow "Something Blue." My favorites are the bluegrass-like "Blue-Eyed Kentucky Boy" with some nice dobro from Furtado and mandolin from Tim Ellis; and the acoustic country of the final track, "Sweet Tooth," with Sinclair fingerpicking an acoustic and the others backing her on dobro, banjo, bass and drums. This one has a real lived-in sound to it.

Strong vocals, well-written songs, good arrangements and excellent players add up to a winner for Paula Sinclair's Steady Girl.

Dan Shvartsman, 30Music.com
Paula Sinclair's voice drips with swagger and stomps with down-home confidence. She has a low alto that hits all the notes smoothly, but lets in the growl when needed to augment her country rock songs. Her voice and personality raises Steady Girl from dull genre run-through to a worthwhile record.

The personality passes through a few familiar types. On lead track "Something Sweeter," Sinclair sounds like the latest heiress to Stevie Nix's throne. The next track, a cover of Steve Earle's "Fearless Heart," has Sinclair fittingly sounding like a female Bruce Springsteen, with organ flourishes behind her to add to the atmosphere. "Medicine Burn" has her closer to contemporary country, with a gleeful lust for glugging medicine down a response to heartbreak and a desire to something different, a common country music concern.

Meanwhile the songs lean more towards aggressive, up-tempo standards than ballads, which helps the album immensely. Things feel sharper when the first two songs hit hard, or when "Medicine Burn" segues into "Even If I Fall," a well-constructed pop song dressed up in twangy guitars and Sinclair's drawl. This pace allows the slower tracks to come as welcome breaks and to not drag so long, as on "When a Heart Breaks" or the title tune.

The title tune also stands as Sinclair's banner. Never does this album go beyond steady, but at the same time, with the effective pacing and her strong vocal personality, Steady Girl does enough to earn attention. At least for a few spins.

Ardent Shanty, May 3, 2009
Paula Sinclair is a “goosebump” musician—you know, a musician whose songs grip you and move you from the moment they draw their breath for the first word? I met Paula at the William Stafford celebration reading in Portland in 2008. She didn’t merely read a Stafford poem, she performed one. She played guitar and put music to Stafford’s “A Story That Could Be True.” This rendition particularly moved me because I have a broadside of this poem hanging in my living room, so I see it every day. It’s part of my daily life. Paula’s album The Good Horse puts five Oregon poets’ words to music. William Stafford, Dorianne Laux, Joseph Millar, Debbie West, and Jarold Ramsey are enriched with her music and voice. She’s currently performing songs from her new album, Steadygirl.

- Various


Discography

A STORY THAT COULD BE TRUE: William Stafford's Poetry Transformed to Songs - To be released in early 2010
STEADYGIRL - 2009
THE GOOD HORSE - 2007
AVALANCHE - 2006
LEMONADE - 2004
UNDERNEATH IT ALL -1995
LIVE AND BAREFOOT - 1994

Photos

Bio

A VOICE ON THE WING

“No other voice I know sounds quite like hers. It’s a lived-in, grown-up instrument deep and sturdy, with a fine grain to the finish, and long notes sustained into a vibrato that quavers like a hummingbird’s wing.” Jeff Rosenberg, Willamette Week

What distinguishes Paula Sinclair from other female singer-songwriters may be her intimately vulnerable original songs or her ability to transform modern American poetry into music. There is no question that these talents thrive under her artistry. But for anyone who has heard her sing, Paula’s uniqueness as a performer and recording artist resides in her inimitable vocals – as lush, sweet, and earthy as the soil on the Kentucky farm where she grew up. Hers is a voice that sets her apart as a sultry crooner with a country soul and a rock-n-roll heart.

One of fourteen siblings rich in creativity, she began her music career at age 14, playing her guitar and singing in a country duo in and around her native Lexington, Kentucky. Today, living in Portland, Oregon, she is an exceptionally adept solo performer, a dynamic force in her rhythmic duo with percussionist/harmonist Kenny Sawyer, and a versatile powerhouse leading her band, Paula Sinclair & The Contenders.

Recent achievements:
• Performing at The Clear Creek Festival, Berea, Kentucky in September 2009.
• Included in the Sin City Social Club sampler, along with Neko Case, Steve Earle, Raul Malo, Willie Nelson, et al in March 2009.
• Released Steady Girl in March 2009
• A popular performer on the McMenamins’ Oregon circuit, including Edgefield, The Grand Lodge, The Hotel Oregon, and The White Eagle during 2008-09.
• Performed two of her Stafford song/poems, accompanied by the 56-piece Starlight Symphony in October 2008.
• Opened for national folk stars Tracy Grammer and Jim Henry at The Bite of Oregon in Portland in August 2008.

“Paula Sinclair is a ‘goosebump’ musician … a musician whose songs grip you and move you from the moment they draw their breath for the first word.” Ardent Shanty

“Sinclair is one of the best artists you've probably never heard of. “ Jennifer Hernandez, The Boise Weekly