Life is full of surprises. Just ask Sarah Kelly. Never in a million years did she expect to find herself here. She never thought she’d be standing on any stage, let alone picking up a mic to sing. It’s not what she considers an altogether comfortable fit. But when she unleashes the power and conviction behind her extraordinary vocals, you’d never know she’s got any hesitation at all.
Sarah Kelly’s music is the stuff that defines artistry. It turns heads, lights up audiences and makes record label executives swoon. And while it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is about this dynamic new talent that captivates people – her gutsy, honest vocal delivery or her deeply expressive music – there’s no question she’s poised to make her artistic mark in a very big way.
Sarah’s national Gotee Records debut, Take Me Away, is already creating a buzz in music circles. As she enters an industry plagued by a dwindling crop of female artists who write and play their own songs, Sarah’s sound is bold, ambitious and refreshing. Listeners may find echoes of such diverse artists as Sheryl Crow, Jennifer Knapp or even Joan Osborne. Sarah wrote or co-wrote each song on the project, which features the perfect marriage of driving, edgy guitars and Sarah’s distinctive Joplin-esque voice, along with the subtle acoustic and piano-driven melodies of the album’s more intimate worship songs.
“Take Me Away,” the album’s title cut and first single, is instantly infectious and perfectly articulates the Sarah Kelly experience. “It represents the journey I’ve been on for the last three years,” Sarah says. “I argued with God and hid in a corner going, ‘No, not me! You want someone else who’s much better than me.’ This song is about me finally giving in to God’s will by saying, ‘If this is really what you want from me, then take me away because all that I love is you. Never have I felt so alone, but my, how I’ve grown....’ This is the song about the journey.”
Another standout track is the bold, driving “Matter of Time,” on which we get to hear the true visceral power of Sarah’s voice. She sings with such vocal intensity and conviction that it’s easy to see how this song captures the underlying theme of the whole album. “I wrote this song from the perspective of Paul and Silas in prison,” Sarah explains. “They were worshipping God before they knew their circumstances were going to change. Most of us have gone through tough situations like divorce, miscarriages, loss, abusive situations, or maybe we’ve been through the turmoil that a teenager feels when they don’t fit in and kids are making fun of them. We all have those moments when we think, ‘If there is a God, he must be a cruel jokester.’ And in the middle of that moment for Paul and Silas, they chose to worship God anyway.
“People tend to use worship as an escape by leaving their problems at the door, coming in to worship, and then picking their problems back up as they leave. But I think you have to come in with your problems, with your doubts, with your frustrations—be who you are. Be honest in your worship. You are who you are in the middle of your worship—with all of your junk right there around you—saying, ‘I don’t even know if you’re real today, God, but I’m going to worship you anyway.’ When Paul and Silas did that, everybody’s chains came loose. I don’t think they were even looking for a miracle, they were just worshipping God in the midst of their circumstances. This is what I really want people to get. I finally got it and it changed my life.”
Produced by long-time friend Jeremy Hunter, Take Me Away features a supporting cast that includes guitarist Mike Payne and drummer Matt Payne (formerly with All-Star United). The album transitions easily between the ambitious rock-flavored tracks to the fearlessly intimate moments of softer songs like “More Than Anyone,” “All I See” and the hauntingly beautiful “Living Hallelujah,” destined to become a worship favorite. Born in Rockford, Ill., Sarah began to hone her songwriting skills at the early age of seven, and eventually found her songs being incorporated into the worship services of her local church as she continued to develop as a writer. She worked her way through college by teaching piano and found herself encouraging her students to write their own music. When her youth pastor approached her about leading worship, it took her completely by surprise, and a full year went by before she agreed to take on that role. She served for nearly four years as worship leader for Master’s Commission, an internationally-based discipleship training program for students aged 18 and up. Before she knew it, concert requests came in from around the world including England, Ireland and Canada. During that time, Sarah recorded original songs on four CDs which sold more than 20,000 copies on their own, without any label distribution.
“It was not a comfortable fit for me to be on stage, but I knew that I was doing what God wanted me to do,” Sarah shares. “I just had to toss out my insecurities and say, ‘I’m here for a reason. I may not be any good at this, but I’m not afraid to look like an idiot because I’m doing what you called me to do.’ I’ve learned that if you’re afraid to try, you’ll never stretch your limits and let yourself go into the unknown. There’s a lot of passion behind these songs, and to sing these kinds of songs you just can’t be afraid.”
Sarah independently recorded the solo project that has now become Take Me Away, and as it began to circulate, industry insiders took notice. It wasn’t long before she found herself pursued by several major labels before landing at Gotee Records. “Everything happened so quickly,” Sarah recalls. “I wasn’t expecting it at all, and I know it was nothing more than just God’s timing. At the end of the day, I felt like Gotee was spiritually on the same page as me. They cared about the same things I did. I felt like Cinderella with the glass slipper—there was one shoe that fit and I found the right one.”
Take Me Away is bound to connect and resonate with listeners of all ages, but Sarah has a special heart for teens because she knows what it’s like to struggle with major self-esteem issues. “I had some big insecurity issues in junior high. I felt alienated by girls who laughed at me and ridiculed me. I reached such a low that I even attempted to take my own life because I felt like I couldn’t handle it any more. I wanted to be dead. Thank God I didn’t succeed because that became a turning point for me. I reached the realization in my head that God does love me and God does think I’m a beautiful person. I knew that in order to survive in this world I needed to see myself like He saw me, and that was major. That’s when I really fell in love with him. All my songs are love songs. I love him so much because he loved me. I feel like I have a survival manual that I want to share.”
For that very reason, the songs Sarah wrote on Take Me Away are vertically directed. “I’m a rock artist, but I love to worship,” she explains. “That’s a big part of me that I’m not willing, under any circumstances, to lay down. If you take that away, there’s nothing left. I want to make a connection so that people will understand that if they worship God through their circumstances they’ll be free. If there’s not that connection, I don’t want to be on stage.”
Within this album lies the bravery of Sarah Kelly, who has learned to embrace who she really is. “I think this album is the story of a girl meeting herself and becoming okay with herself for the very first time.
Source: Gotee Records