Exquisite vocals and sharp lyrics in a style reminiscent of old time greats but new and raw. Frequently described as aching yearning music, people feel it.


From The Dallas Observer 2008 Music Awards issue:

Winner: Best Solo Act, Best Female Vocalist, Best Folk/Acoustic Act

"One day, just maybe, Sarah Jaffe will not live in Dallas—or Denton, where she resides now—and people will say, as they've said of many other greats who preceded her, I was there when. She has no immediate plans to vacate the premises, though; hers are, for now, the romantic visions of the singer-songwriter who imagines herself penning personal plaints while holed up in a New York City brownstone or a London flat; alas, "I've never even been to New York City," she says, laughing.

But she's been to London, just this month, where she played the O2 Wireless Festival in Hyde Park. If, as part of the smaller Bella Union Stage lineup, she wasn't exactly on the same stage with Morrissey and Beck and Jay-Z, she was at least on the same patch of land. No doubt, those three men were awed by the prospect.

Leaving, Jaffe says, has "been on my mind for a while. I live in Denton, which, as we all know, is a comfy, cozy place full of talent. But I am one of those people who doesn't like to stay anywhere for too long. I get anxious. We'll see. I don't know."

For now, we have time yet to celebrate Jaffe as the area's best solo performer, female vocalist and folk/acoustic act—the three Dallas Observer Music Awards she receives this year, among many forthcoming should she choose to stay. And it's only appropriate that she clean up on the 20th anniversary of these accolades, as Jaffe fits so beautifully alongside others who've won these honors in years past—from Sara Hickman to Michelle Shocked to Edie Brickell to Kim Pendleton, all of whom, like Jaffe, proved timeless and timely upon their arrival in a music "scene" now fragmented but no less viable today than a thousand yesterdays ago.

Jaffe's music seethes and longs and hurts; it hangs itself from the cello and guitar strings as she wails and whispers in a voice that traces its raw, confessional ache back to the distant age of performers such as Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith and Patsy Cline. But it's also funny and wise: "You're on your way to the bottom/At least you know where you're going," she sings on "Black Hoax Lie," from the John Congleton-produced six-song EP Even Born Again due out next week.

"I always like to say age isn't a hindrance or a factor," says Jaffe, who is all of 22. "I've always felt like, whether I am 16 or 40, it doesn't matter when you experience something, it affects you all the same. That's what comes through in my shows and music. I love what I do, and I try to experience everything to its fullest."

Perhaps you've seen Jaffe around; she's often at other folks' shows, looking inconspicuous, like she's trying to disappear. Such is the offstage demeanor of the performer who gives you everything onstage and on disc (she'll begin recording a new full-length in the fall).

"I feel like I've made myself vulnerable for an hour, and I want to hide after that," she says. "It's like reading my fucking journal entries from seventh grade"—she laughs—"and then I have to get offstage and be on, when I just want to go home and take a nap. It's great when people come up and are grateful and complimentary—it's part of why I do this—but I just want to crawl into a hole and cry. It's a weird sense of relief I don't get from anywhere else. I get intense anxiety before shows, because I love it so much—and want it to be over with."

On her new album, Jaffe sings, "I'm invisible," and it sounds like both a complaint and a desire. But in a perfect world, Sarah Jaffe would be everywhere.—Robert Wilonsky


Even Born Again - Summer Break Records 2008