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Sarah Brooks with Joe Beck: What Is My Heart For

This being the festive season and all, I’ll confess that I’ve saved the best gift for last. New Englander Sarah Brooks is a phenomenal vocalist who, working primarily within the folk-rock idiom on What Is My Heart For (Whaling City Sound), reflects the bold authority of Bonnie Raitt. Escalating Brooks’ voice from good to great are, odd as it may sound, hints of Cher’s trademark phrasing and, every now and then, the suggestion of Michael Jackson’s castrated squeak. Trust me, the results are extraordinary. Working alongside guitarist Joe Beck and percussionist Woodrow Williams (ideal playmates for this eclectic musical tour), Brooks shifts effortlessly from the claustrophobic urgency of Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale” to a gutsy “House of the Rising Sun” that swaps Eric Burdon’s resentful growl for sighed resignation. Willie Dixon’s “I Just Wanna Make Love to You,” spiced with a subtle undercurrent of sexual hunger, unfurls like a dewy morning glory. Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” favors style over substance, gracefully sidestepping the lyric’s plaintive self-indulgence. It is, however, on Sting’s “Fragile” that the three players come together most cohesively. The starkness of Beck’s guitar intersects Wilson’s stormy percussion to provide an ideally conflicted backdrop for Brooks’ sumptuous interpretation of the delicate lyric. Breathtaking.

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