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Sara Marie Barron swaps her pen for a microphone on ‘Sad, But True’

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Avid Metro Times readers will likely recognize the name Sara Marie Barron, whose shortened byline has frequently appeared in these pages for the past year or so as a music writer. But when she wasn't busy interviewing artists for us, Barron spent the past year working on Sad, but True, her debut full-length record.

The music writer now finds herself being written about by other music writers, with recent stories featured on Billboard and PopMatters. Barron's classic, commanding voice betrays her 23 years, and has garnered comparisons to jazzy singer-songwriters like Norah Jones, Amy Winehouse, and Adele. She cites old-school girl groups like the Shirelles and the Ronettes as influences, but also digs current artists like Ravyn Lenae, Gia Margaret, and Molly Burch.

Barron says the record has been a long time coming. "Basically, I have been a musician and writing songs for a long time, but I never really had the means or the wherewithal to decide to just make a record," she says. "I think kind of the reason it is my first record is it took me a while to give myself permission to take the chance."

Part of that inspiration came from years of interviewing other artists. After a stint at Nashville's Vanderbilt University, where she studied music management and marketing, Barron landed a job as a copywriter working for a music licensing company in Portland, writing artist bios and interviews.

"I was just like, 'This is really fun, I love doing this,'" she says. "But I was also kind of like, 'I want to do my own art too. I think I can do both, and I know musicians who do.'"

Barron says she started singing at age 4, when her mom put her and two of her siblings in a local production of Cats. She was later classically trained in a conservatorium while growing up near Lake Orion, "but I didn't want to sing opera or something," she says. Music took a backseat to track in college — "I was gone every weekend staying at Holiday Inns in random college towns in the South," she says.

After moving to Detroit, Barron started production of Sad, but True last September, a mix of songs she had written previously over the past couple years as well as some new ones. Most are accompanied by piano — Barron wrote the chords herself, but enlisted local musician friends to flesh the songs' instrumentation out.

Barron will debut Sad, but True with a release show as part of La Femme Wednesdays, a weekly showcase of female singers at Detroit's recently reopened Willis Show Bar. Barron says she became hip to the spot after she was asked by her friend Dave Vessella, who frequently performs with the bar's house band, the Heavy Petters, to sing a Sam Cooke song on stage.

After the performance, she met bar owner Sean Patrick. "He said, 'I really like your voice, would you be interested in doing a show here?' I was like, 'Can I make it my release show?'" Barron says. "The vibe there is super cool, and I thought it would be a great fit for this record. He was super positive and totally on board."

Barron says there will be two sets at Willis: The first will feature songs from the record and other originals, while the second will be all covers of influences, some of which are unexpected. (She promises covers of Ginuwine's "Pony" and a mashup of SZA's "Supermodel" and "The Weekend.") She'll be accompanied by Mario Sulaksana on keys, Will Daniels on drums, Junho Kim on bass, Vessella on trumpet, and Chris Kendall on trombone. In keeping with Barron's love of anachronism, Sad, but True is released digitally and on cassette tape. ("It's like the poor man's vinyl," she says.)

As for the record title: Barron wants us to know she's OK. "A lot of people asked me about the name, 'Sad, but True, what's that about?'" she says. "That's like a little inside joke to myself, because I know that I'm dramatic and I know that all of the songs on the album are super dramatic, and that's kind of like the vibe I want to give off on the album. I'm actually a very happy person, generally, and I love my life. But whenever I write songs it's usually at the height of some type of emotion. There's some sass and some sad stuff. It's a part of me, but it's not all of me, and it's kind of fun to show that side."

Sara Marie Barron will celebrate the release of Sad, but True on Wednesday, Aug. 15 at Willis Show Bar; 4156 Third Ave., Detroit; 313-788-7469; willisshowbar.com; Doors at 7 p.m., shows at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m.; Tickets are $7.