Sophie Barker is not a name you’re likely to recognize but you may well recognize her voice—she sang a number of songs fronting the musical outfit Zero 7, which helped popularize the so-called downtempo (or chillout, or downbeat) genre early in the millennium. (She co-wrote and sang, for one, the widely-heard song “In The Waiting Line.”) Personally, I never warmed to Zero 7, and I think it was because of my irrational prejudice against “producer music.” Zero 7 was/is the brainchild of two British producer/remixer types, and to me that eliminates the main thing I get out of music, which is a sense of personal connection to a musician who is playing an instrument and/or singing a song. This is just me, I will note. You are entitled and even encouraged to feel otherwise.
Anyway, so if Sophie Barker now comes along with a similarly chilled-out sound but is singing and performing her own material, rather than as a hired hand on a musical “project,” I find my heart much more open to it than I was to her Zero 7 performances. “Say Goodbye” weaves a knowing spell, breaking no new territory but doing what it does with great bittersweet panache. (New territory, as I’ve said many times, is way overrated.) Barker has a lovely voice, at once plainspoken and rich, with a thrilling upper register that she unleashes largely in the chorus (although don’t miss how she sometimes flits into it briefly, as for instance when she sings the words “Will you” in the line “Will you be standing by me?” at 0:45). With its offhand melodies and melancholy bursts of harmony, “Say Goodbye” shimmers with feeling, and, to me, shows the potential power of this kind of composition when sung truly from the heart.
“Say Goodbye” is from the album Seagull, Barker’s third solo album, released last year in the UK. She is currently playing in the US. No word yet on whether the album is slated for a US release, but the promotional MP3 suggests something might be in the works. Thanks to Largehearted Boy for the lead.