In her new album Sara’s Half Finished Love Affair, Nashville-based artist and songwriter Ellen Starski showcases her songwriting range in an exceptional collection of beat-driven, imaginative, and narrative songs. Starski is known for her magnetic personality, dynamic songwriting, emotive vocal style, and her music’s “keen ability to reach directly into our souls” (Take Effect Reviews). Sara’s Half Finished Love Affair introduces some darker, grungier elements as well as a bright, alternative pop sense to Starski’s characteristic mix of ethereal and earthy, new qualities she says developed from a shift in her songwriting method. Instead of finger-picking a melody on guitar as she composed, Starski wrote the songs on Sara’s Half Finished Love Affair a capella, stomping a rhythm with a boot and, in her words, leaving herself more room. “This was a totally different way of approaching songwriting for me, and it opened up a lot of doors for flexibility in pre-production, too.” This looser, more intuitive songwriting process led to a truly fresh-sounding and cohesive album, that’s now in the process of production with Lucas Morton (Jordy Searcy, Jill Andrews) and Max Hoffman.
A robust and natural undercurrent pulses beneath several of the songs in Sara’s Half Finished Love Affair, leaving space for Starski’s unique vocal melodies to drift and curl around the beats. In “Never Met a Ghost” the dragging, distant percussion makes a perfect foil to the breathy beauty of Starski’s voice. In “Satellite” there’s a quick, cyclical movement to the guitars and percussion that mirrors the lyrical content perfectly. “Follow my Lead” reminds us why we fell in love with Starski’s music in the first place: her compelling and dramatic voice is showcased at ease in this sparse, guitar-led lovesong. “I’ve been searching for a certain sound my entire life, and I feel like I’m on my way to finding it with this album.”
Her celebrated debut solo album, The Days When Peonies Prayed for the Ants, released May 2018, traces Starski’s autobiographical, geographical, and emotional journey from her origins in rural Reynoldsville, PA, where she began playing guitar at 19 and singing the blues in local bars, to her current career as a solo Americana artist in Nashville. Offering a rich mix of orchestra-backed Americana, delicate piano ballads, finger-plucked indie-folk, and beguiling pop, each song on Peonies features Starski’s dynamic and often surprising vocal delivery as well as her talent for emotionally-nuanced storytelling. The album’s title affirms Starski’s deep interest in Earth’s intricate connections, alluding to the symbiotic relationship between peony flowers and ants— separate species which rely on each other to grow. While Peonies is sonically influenced by the music of Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and the Alison Krauss/Robert Plant collaboration Raising Sand, Starski’s general musical influences span a wider spectrum, from Lilith-Fair-era feminist icons Amos and McLachlan to Tom Petty’s free-wheeling spirit and Aimee Mann’s lyrical focus.
Sara’s Half Finished Love Affair marks Starski’s first experience co-writing, a process she found both liberating and a bit difficult. Five different tracks on the new album were written with other artists, including her husband and father. “It was liberating because there wasn’t as much pressure on me, but also it was a little hard to let go. Ultimately, it felt like a necessary step.” As a confident performer and seasoned songwriter, Starski has the rare capacity to know exactly who she is and how to remain true to herself while also allowing herself to take risks, try new things, and grow as an artist.
“It all comes back to freedom. This life is supposed to be free, and I feel like we are so restricted in so many ways right now. I want this album to make people feel free, & That’s just the damn truth.”