Across her four critically-acclaimed albums, Seattle artist Sera Cahoone has become known for creating stirring, hushed Americana music that embodies raw emotionalism. Her songs have always been the sort that grab the listener by the collar and pull them close. And yet fans may not even realize they’ve yet been held at arm’s length until they hear the revisited arrangements on her new EP, The Flora String Sessions, which was self-released on April 20, 2018.
The Flora String Sessions revisits some of Cahoone’s most beloved fan favorites from across her remarkable career, with just her starkly honest vocals and guitar plus violin, viola, and cello. It’s somewhat of a greatest hits collection, albeit with more intimate, stunningly beautiful arrangements by Led to Sea violist Alex Guy. The trio Guy assembled to support Cahoone on this effort serves to augment the space between notes, drawing the listener into the essence of heart-rending selections like “Couch Song” (from 2006’s Sera Cahoone), “Baker Lake” (from 2008’s Only as the Day Is Long), and “Worry All Your Life” (from 2012’s Deer Creek Canyon).
In fact, the arrangements are so stirring, even Cahoone was delighted and surprised about how her songs came out. “The first time I heard the string trio at rehearsal,” she says, “I couldn't believe how beautiful it sounded. I’ve always played by ear. … It hurts my head trying to imagine how Alex arranged all these parts and put them on paper. It's been a really great experience.” Cahoone has always been a master of intense lyrical intimacy. And while her exquisite live band has provided her previous recordings with lush, intuitive instrumental support, there is something remarkably pure about hearing some of the best songs of her career delivered in this more nuanced manner.
As she has steadily gained a wider audience over the past twelve years, the Denver-native-turned-Seattle-mainstay has toured with Son Volt, Kathleen Edwards, Blitzen Trapper, and Gregory Alan Isakov, to name a few; but it was a duo tour with Guy that set the pair spinning toward this project. In 2017, they set out for a brief tour of the Southern US, which quickly grew into a five week jaunt out West. Once Guy had arranged violin parts for that outing, it seemed natural to her to expand them into string trios for a special performance back home at Seattle’s Saint Mark’s Cathedral.
To prepare for that evening, the pair combed through Cahoone’s back catalogue to determine which songs would best lend themselves to being played with a trio. Once they had nailed down 16 songs for the set, Guy spent the next few months completing the arrangements.
“Each of Sera’s songs has its own beautiful character,” she notes. “It was a challenge and a real pleasure to try and bring that character even more to life through the string parts, … without overwhelming the beauty of the original guitar and vocals. But, she adds, “the best moment for me was at our first rehearsal with the string trio. Sera hadn't heard any of the arrangements live yet and I really wasn't sure what her reaction would be because there were so many new elements that she wasn't used to. At the end of each song her eyes were on fire, and she'd say 'Woah! That was awesome!' I knew I'd been on the right track."