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The Saba sound

Elbo Club
Elbo Club
By Saba

Spinster Recordings: 2007

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This review first appeared in Turbula in March 2007.

To know how deeply involved in San Diego County's music scene is Saba Berenji (who performs under her first name), one need only look at the guest musician credits on her new CD: Joanie Mendenhall, Evan Bethany and Greg Laswell – stalwarts all of the local coffeehouse circuit.

Listening to the disc makes clear why they would want to be present, why Saba is one of the most popular of local artists among her fellow musicians. There is a Saba sound, a vision of how her music should be performed coupled to the talent, arrangements and production values to pull off that vision.

It is a vision of accessible melodies coupled to complex arrangements with a touch of the Wall of Sound approach to recording. Difficult if not impossible to re-create in live performance, the sound achieved here is utterly polished – yet built as it is around Saba's soulful singing, it never comes off as cold or sterile. Far from it.

As to those guest artists, Bethany's violin, in particular, adds a smokey ambience to the sound that gives it a mystic, mythical feel – a touch of Kate Bush surrealism – and you can hear why she'd want to be part of it.

And the production by Keith Orfanides, who also produced Kim DiVine's outstanding "Hummingbird" EP last year, takes full advantage of both the richly structured songs and Saba's ethereal voice. He provides a clean, clear sound in the studio that brings out all the details and colors of the layer after layer of sound he lays atop her songs.

In the end, it is those songs and that voice that make this "Elbo Club" the rewarding listen it is – that have made Saba such a popular force in the local music community.