When I first learned of folk-Americana singer Sarah Lou Richards in November 2014, I was the currents editor for UW-Eau Claire’s student newspaper, looking for a story to fill that week's section.
Her PR man, Matt Kelly, emailed me asking for coverage of her third album, “The Woman Behind the Curtain,” which was being released later that month. It was a light week. I agreed to a phone interview.
I knew the second she got on the line Richards, who was born in Hudson and graduated from UW-Eau Claire, was a woman I was going to get along with, if not look up to. She was funny, honest and to this day I believe no matter who she is talking to, she wants to make them feel good about themselves.
As a student journalist, she made me feel legitimate with messages of thanks when I covered her album release as well as her album release party at Revival Records in January 2015. She praised my work as much as I praised hers.
Three years later, I found myself on the phone with Richards again at the end of October. She isn't just another source who is releasing just another record anymore. We spoke for 44 minutes and 28 seconds about cats, her married life, living in Nashville and shared minor complaints and accomplishments (some minor for me, most major for her).
Somewhere in there we also found time to chat about her newest record, “Someone Who Gets Me,” which was released in October.
The album is not exactly a 180-degree flip from her previous albums, but it is so much more distinctively her voice, her thoughts and what she places value on in her life.
“It is evidence of what I've learned,” Richards said of her growth on this album compared to her previous ones. “If I would have played a sample of this to myself 10 years ago, I would have thought 'maybe not.' It makes me really proud and excited to continue to be open to see what can come in and make my music even better.”
This album, y'all, is incredible. She maximizes the use of the pedal steel guitar in many of the tracks, and combines bass with guitar, drums and some absolutely beautiful — and in some cases, haunting — harmonies.
Not only was the first record she produced away from Nashville, where she currently lives, but it was the first time Richards was involved in the production process, making decisions right alongside her Minneapolis producer, Adrian Suarez.
I'm a little biased. I preordered her album on PlegdeMusic, the site she used to raise funds for this project and shared updates throughout the process beginning in March.
Those updates reveal more about the personal touches that went into this album. It is there I learned “New Kind of Song” was written for her now-husband six months after they first started dating, her nephew sings/says the opening verse in “Jaidyn's Lullaby” (written about her niece) and she wrote “On Account of Rain” after her family found out her grandma didn't have long left to live. She was able to finish the song, and sing it to her, before she died.
Each song has a deep, personal connection to Richards, which is something not every artist can say. But after getting to know her, I would think, 'how could it not?'
She is an honest woman who cares deeply and passionately about those closest to her. Even those who cross her path briefly, like myself, keep a place in her heart.
Not only did she invite me to her kick-ass show at The Oxbow Hotel Friday, she gave my Leader-Telegram article about her a shout-out (the only shout-out) after the third song.
“She's the one in front, with the bangs,” she said behind the mic Friday before looking at me. “And now I'm making her blush.”
That's just the kind of person she is: She wants to make other people feel like they matter.
When there weren’t enough chairs for everyone and not an ideal amount of space to stand, Richards simply asked the crowd to move forward, to “get cozy. I’m just going to turn around and talk to my band and when I turn back maybe it’ll look a bit different.”
The crowd happily obliged, moving the rows of chairs together so people could fill in the back.
She proceeded to play through the entirety of her album, sharing with the crowd what inspired her to write many of the songs and little details about her personal life.
The woman has an incredible voice that is even more powerful in person than it is on her record, which is saying something. But her personality is all the more admirable. There were maybe 50 of us in that room, but I bet I am not alone in feeling like the entire show was a one-on-one conversation with an old friend.
We need more Sarah Lou Richards in the world.