Sara Hallie Richardson didn’t get her musical start by singing for her supper on street corners or paying her dues in a garage band. No, she did it in a less stereotypically rock ’n’ roll way, and in a more endearingly dorky kind of way.
“I played Marion the Librarian in our high school production of ‘The Music Man,’” said Richardson, then a student at Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro, now a 23-year-old graduate of the University of Maine. “I had singing lessons, and after we were done my music teacher told me that if I was really interested in music that I should follow it, because it would take me somewhere. After that I was hooked.”
Richardson’s classical training and pure-as-gold soprano took her from musical theater to where she is now — an up-and-coming young songwriter, with her full-length debut, “A Curious Paradox,” available now through her Web site, www.singingsara.com. Needless to say, she’s light-years from 76 trombones. Not to say she wasn’t encouraged growing up.
“My whole family is very creative,” said Richardson. “My dad is an artist. My sister is a dancer. I grew up singing alongside my dad at the piano. He bought me my first guitar. It’s always been in my life. I just never believed I could write songs until just a few years ago.”
“A Curious Paradox” features nine of Richardson’s deceptively simple songs, backed by strummed acoustic guitar and a litany of electronically programmed clicks, beeps and purrs. It brings to mind the music of Imogen Heap or Bjork, though Richardson cites Joni Mitchell as her biggest inspiration. But the first thing you notice when you listen to her music is her voice — a powerful yet delicate instrument that works just as well as a whisper as it does when it soars.
“I love how people like [Heap and Mitchell] layer their voices in their music,” she said. “I think of my voice as my primary instrument, so I love to arrange lots of vocal parts. One of the songs on my album, ‘Penny Castle,’ has 17 vocal tracks. It’s pretty tricky to figure out how to play that one live, but we’ve worked it out.”
Before striking out on her own, Richardson performed in the now-defunct group Glosoli with two of her friends, as well as singing with the band Belmondo. An open mike at the University of Maine prompted her to try her hand at playing guitar and writing her own stuff, though, and since that time she has compiled a growing repertoire of smart, enticingly pretty songs. Last year, she began recording “A Curious Paradox” with local producer Mike Flannery.
“I think my music has gotten much more confident and personal in the past year or so,” said Richardson. “I’m a lot more honest. I’m not shying away from saying things and trying things that I used to be intimidated by. And Mike was really, really wonderful to work with.”
Richardson will play a record release party with former As Fast As singer Spencer Albee this Saturday in Portland, at hip Congress Street venue the Space Gallery. Right after that, though, she’s taking her guitar and her samplers and heading off to New York City to try her luck at hitting it big.
“I’m going to give it a shot,” said Richardson. “I’ll never know unless I try. At the least, I’ll get it out of my system. And I’ll always come back to Maine.”
Sara Hallie Richardson plays at 9:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 28, at the Space Gallery in Portland; the show is open to age 18 and up, and admission is $7. For more information, visit www.singingsara.com.