Sara Petite, profiled in these pages in the January issue, has released her fourth album, Circus Comes to Town. Like her previous album, Doghouse Rose (2010), Circus was recorded in Nashville at the Insomnia Studio with a team of crack session players. Petite dedicated Circus to the loving memory of Johnny Kuhlken, her partner and drummer, who died tragically in 2011 at age 49. Circus delivers 11 original tracks, all penned by Petite with the exception of one (“Barbwire”) co-written with noted songwriter John Eddie. The songs range from rockabilly (“Movin’ On,” “Scarlett Letter”) to traditional country of both the rock-oriented and softer varieties. Several of the tunes reflect Petite’s grief at the loss of Kuhlken. The lyrics of “Movin’ On” refer to “Pappa Bear,” her term of endearment for Kuhlken (and “Sugar Daddy,” the name of the back-up band in which he played), and both of the slower, melancholy songs, “Drinkin’ to Remember” and “Forever Blue,” hauntingly address the themes of loss, pain, and regret.
This is not to suggest that Circus is maudlin or depressing. To the contrary, some of the songs are inspirational – even triumphant – in tone, such as “Someday I’m Gonna Fly” and “Ashes,” and others are whimsical (“Mama Ain’t Happy”). For the most part, Circus is mainstream Texas roadhouse music. “Perfume” features the classic subject of infidelity and jealousy from the perspective of the scorned woman. “Barbwire” is about an emotionally unavailable woman who has barbwire around her heart “to protect them weaker parts.” The rousing “The Master” explores the theme of Kris Kristofferson’s “Silver-Tongued Devil and I” from the woman’s point of view. All three of these songs have commercial potential. My favorite songs on Circus, however, are the title track and “Ashes,” which feature beautiful melodies and compelling lyrics. “Circus Comes to Town” uses the circus as a wistful metaphor for the ups and down of life: “this carnival of happy tunes” with bright lights and “cotton candy smiles” juxtaposed against the reality that “This smoke and mirrors is all a joke/You laugh until you start to choke/You’re choking on lipstick and rouge.” After all the fun and excitement, the circus inevitably leaves town, and on “Monday morning I’ll come down.”
“Ashes” is equally poignant – poetry put to song. Here is a sample: “Spread my ashes in the desert/Scatter some at sea/Keep a little for yourself/A little piece of me/And know I always loved you/And that I Rest in Peace…./When this world comes to claim you/I hope they bring you back to me/Until then live life to its fullest, if not for you, do it for me/Live and laugh, smile and dance, and I hope you find some peace/This old world will come to claim you, hope they bring you back to me….”
Circus is ultimately about healing, and Petite’s rich vocals are a delight. She should be playing a regular gig at Poodie’s Roadhouse or the Saxon Pub. Get to Austin, Sara.