Sarah McCoy spent a good deal of her twenties playing piano and singing in fly-ridden, hotter-than-hell New Orleans dives – places whose chaos matched the On the Road life she’d been living since the age of twenty. Now, at 33, she carries on a tradition perfected by Tom Waits, Amy Winehouse, Leon Russell, and Nina Simone, who turned the wreckage of embattled lives into poetry. Blood Siren, her major-label debut, captures Sarah’s haunted moan, a sound that both chills and touches the heart. The songs, which she wrote, are as intimate and unguarded as diary entries. “I don’t like who I am / Who I’ve been / Or who I’ll be … Dear mamma, there’s no one left but you to pray / You to pray for me.” Her lyrics, according to music journalist Brett Milano, “are a survivor’s testimony, full of references to dashed hopes and lost friendships and delivered with gritty determination.” At times her imagery is as lush and vivid as William Faulkner’s: “It was the breath of sweet olive trees / Steeped through summer’s heat / As they heave their breath into the street / And dangle from the feet of bees.” Producers Chilly Gonzales and Renaud Letang create a stark midnight atmosphere. There’s Sarah on piano and guitar, touches of cello and celesta, some electronic sounds, and plenty of silence, along with a voice that sounds just as it does when she’s alone in her room. All this rawness is a world away from the Auto-Tuned, robotic gloss of contemporary pop. But that’s not what Sarah is about. She was born in Pine Plains, New York – population 2,473 at last count – to a “laicized [defrocked] nun, poet, and teacher,” as she puts it, and a veteran in fragile health. When Sarah was a child, the family moved to the warmer climate of Charleston, South Carolina. Her parents promised her “alligators and coconuts”, and for her childhood years Sarah enjoyed living near the beach. But then she had to face the deaths of both her father and grandmother, just a few days apart.