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Sara Quah Unveils A Folkish-Pop Gem

Sheryl Clark Productions

"This is very much a partnership," said Sara Quah, glancing sideways at the man who produced her upcoming "Taking Me Back" album. I don't think the album would be what it is, if it was just my vision."

Quah was referring to Tony SanFilippo, owner of Oxide Lounge Recording Studio in Bloomington. Quah enlisted SanFilippo to produce her first full length album, and credits him as the person who put meat onto the bones of the lyrics and musical song skeletons she had written over the previous year.

"Tony has an amazing imagination," gushed Quah.

"I have a pretty clear vision when I hear a song," added SanFilippo. "We had done an EP and three singles before this record happened. She can sit with her guitar on my couch in the control room and play me a song ... and I can hear usually a couple different ways we can turn it."

SanFilippo uses "Physics" as an example of a song he knew how to spin as soon as he heard Quah demo it. He turned to friend Trefan Owen for the guitar work in the studio, and the two worked around the pocket of the song to find the right tempo.

"I wanted to find the place it wanted to live, to have enough breath and enough light to it, but not either go by too fast that you didn't get the vibe, or labor too long where it didn't portray what the lyrics were," said SanFilippo.

Musically, the album's second song "How I'm Feeling" has a mid-temp bounce with lyrics that seem to recall a drive down an old two-lane country road, maybe even old Route 66 on a beautiful summer afternoon.

And I don’t even need to go too fast/I get a close up view of the fields I pass

Moving particles I part my sea/Aerodynamically

That’s how I’m feeling right now

It's a drive you want to remember forever. Quah said indeed the song came to her while driving, but she was actually heading north on Clinton, just before the boulevard in the middle of Bloomington.

"I had the windows down, it was a beautiful summer night," recalled Quah. "I felt really good about the rehearsal and really excited about hanging out with the guys and how fun it was. I didn't want that to end and get home. So I got that first verse and went home and finished it in 10 minutes."

If there's a "hit" on the album, the sweet up-tempo confection "A Little Bit" is the obvious choice. It's a song that's in a hurry, but occasionally slows enough to glance back and smile at what just passed.

"I think that's the biggest ear-worm on the record," said San Filippo, who deep belly laughed when Quah scrunched her face into a dumbfounded "Really?"

"Taking Me Back" album cover

Still laughing, Filippo explained the song was dropped from the vinyl version of the album because the run-time of the two sides didn't match, which can mess with an album's sonic quality. Knowing Quah wasn't a fan of the flirtatious song, he instructed the vinyl cutter in Nashville to drop it. But (still) to her chagrin, the song she characterized as "not my favorite songs on the album," made it onto the CD. Her hesitancy revolves around the tune sounding too much like a "theme song" and the determined lyrics:

I gotta make you fall in love with me a little bit/Make it impossible to wave and smile and then forget

"I wrote it when I was in a little bit of a sassy mood," said Quah. "When you're performing and doing the best you can, and you've done all this preparation and people just walk right by you and don't even notice you. It just hurts your feelings."

She credits Mike Gardner, who played on the album, with the inspiration on moving past that rejection.

"He might not remember saying this to me, but he said 'you got to make people fall in love with you.' At first I was 'weirded' out by that. I don't like the idea of being flirtatious or trying to be fake with people. That's not who I am. But I pondered over it for awhile and decided he's kind of right," said Quah.

The album release party for "Taking Me Back" is May 5 at Fat Jacks in downtown Bloomington. Quah and her band begin playing at 8:00 p.m. Copies of her new album will be available at the venue.

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Jon Norton is the program director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.