Whether or not you are familiar with her work, when you first hear Sarah Asher’s voice, you at once feel a comfortable kinship, as if this is an artist who you’ve always known. This timelessness is a tried and true example of great song craft and tasteful pop sensibilities.
For her newest album, Echo Mountain Sessions, Asher enlists a fresh backing band who help make the songs glisten with a very powerful emotive force. With every member carefully applying just the right amount of finesse, the album floats in a very tasteful ethereal plain, balancing carefully a mix of songs that blur the lines of mournfulness, acceptance and in the end, confidence.
The collection of songs that make up Echo Mountain Sessions pull from inspirational landscapes of her farming past in Columbus to her family lifestyle now, in greater Cincinnati. Asher is not new to songwriting and has been releasing music since the early 2000s. After taking a hiatus of sorts between 2006 and 2019, she found renewed inspiration both from her garden and her garden, and once again began to hit a songwriting stride in 2019.
Eerie album opener “The House” paints a vivid picture of an old house and its surrounding land, personifying it with the words:
Her windows lit looking out
Keeping us safe
As we find her flaws and blame her age
She’s seen so much
Bloom and die inside her
With this examination she comes to the final conclusion: “The House is Alive!”
If “The House” introduces the album, as opening credits do in a cinematic sense, the following track “Here Comes The Dawn” pulls the listener into Asher’s universe and takes them for a walk. Though the music of the song gallops gleefully, the juxtaposed lyrics paint a different image of remorse, with the lines:
It was the perfect ending to a not so perfect day
My secrets were hidden forgotten like my pain
If the songs of Echo Mountain Sessions were presented instead in a concert experience, the glorious third track “All The Days” would be the point in the set where the band brings the house down, moving the feet of the audience members and ending in uproarious applause.
It’s following track, “She Goes Away,” instead would be the point of the set where audience members are too afraid to return to the bar to refill their cups, in fear of missing a second of the poignant release the song gives, slowly building to a powerfully rocking closure.
“I Am Nature” picks the speed back up with a confident strut, declaring:
You can cut me down
You can drown me out
You can concrete over
But I am finding a way
Overall, the combination of the solid songwriting paired with the musicianship of her accompanying session players creates the perfect sonic template for this music to exist within. Featuring Asheville jazz pianist Andrew J. Fletcher, bassist Michael Libramento (Grace Potter and The Nocturnals), Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra violinist Eric Bates, trumpeter Hank West (Squirrel Nut Zippers), Elias Leisring (guitar), Casey Campbell (drums, harmony vocals), and Harvey Leisure (moog, electric guitar) one hopes that Asher can continue to work with this lineup for further releases, as these members’ execution not only helps to develop Asher’s songs further but also compliment each other rather favorably.
In a perfect world, Sarah Asher would be the new darling of Pitchfork or on the cover of Rolling Stone. I hope that is her future one day. In the meantime, we get to keep her as one of the best kept secrets of Cincinnati. Enjoy the privilege while you can.