[PUSHING POP] It seems like a River Styx reference is right there. Portland-based Sara Jackson-Holman opens her latest EP, River Queen, with the line, "Take me with you when you go to the depths of your despair." She's the conveyance on a river, but doesn't quite make it to the literary nod. Instead, the piano-dominated track gets swamped with drum programming and a chorus that could again land the singer's work on network television. But toting around a voice like hers should enable the Central Oregon native to ditch the lesser trappings of pop music. By the time River Queen reaches "Keep Score," Jackson-Holman has drifted through enough pop offerings to sate teenage mallrats and finally hits on a uniquely composed piece, with her piano-playing largely unadorned by additional accompaniment. As her voice flits across the song, a special sort of unforced grandeur emerges, something noticeably absent from the more radio-ready work dashed across the rest of the EP. Crafting an entire album of compositions in the same mode as "Keep Score" while keeping listeners' attention would be difficult. And it's pretty clear the singer understands that, despite getting all tangled up in studio shenanigans. The moments when she sheds pretense and ignores the potential for swelled production flourishes, Jackson-Holman moves beyond the plateau of dime-a-dozen crooners and hints at the possibilities of a substantive, nationwide career.
SEE IT: Sara Jackson-Holman plays Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., with Holiday Friends and Swansea, on Friday, July 11. 9 pm. $8 advance, $10 day of show. 21+.