She raises her voice in an attempt to speak over the roar of an animatronic bear.
The bear’s winning, though, as bears tend to do — especially robotic ones in casinos standing atop artificial rock formations.
The show has begun at Mystic Falls Park in Sam’s Town, the dry ice clouding in front of a waterfall as recorded harmonicas blare, wolves howl and laser-light cowgirls dance across the front of a faux mountain, several stories high.
“This is one my favorite places,” explains Sabriel Hobart as she walks through the hotel’s wooded atrium prior to the onset of the din. “It’s so weird.”
For Hobart, “weird” isn’t a pejorative — she applies the word to herself later in the conversation — it just signifies something that’s different, and better for it, be it a tourist attraction boasting a large motorized eagle or a young soul singer with purple eyelashes and a superb new EP, “shä bré el.”
Hobart, who performs simply as Sabriel, was a teenager when she released her self-titled debut EP in 2012, a collection of understated jazz vamps that positioned her as a “Norah Jones-like singer, someone you’d find at a lounge, nice ballads, stuff like that,” Hobart says. “If I was in this for the money, I would totally go in that direction.”
OK, so what is Hobart in it for, then?
Herself, as “shä bré el” underscores.
Now, we don’t mean this in a self-absorbed, navel-gazey type of way.
It’s just that “shä bré el” is all about Hobart finding her voice by paying less attention to the voices of others.
“The first EP was really a lot of other people’s ideas,” says Hobart, a former dance student at Las Vegas Academy. “I was super young when I wrote it, so it was like, ‘Well, what do you think would sound good?’ or ‘How about you write this song and I’ll write the lyrics and melody?’ ”
It worked at the time.
Hobart’s debut established her as an artist of considerable promise, earning critical accolades and helping her land prime spots on two consecutive editions of the Life is Beautiful fest.
But despite the inroads she was making career-wise at the time, she wasn’t really feeling the direction that was she going in creatively, and she sensed that her audience was beginning to feel the same.
“People can tell when something new needs to happen,” says Hobart, an expressive presence who tends to wave her hands as she speaks like a cop directing traffic. “I felt like people were getting tired of what I was doing — and I was getting tired of it, too. I was really craving this big moment of just getting all these of emotions out on the table and feeling like I did something that I could be proud of. Listening to that first EP, I know a lot of people love it, but any time I hear it, I cringe. It just doesn’t feel like me.”
“Shä bré el” remedies this feeling.
The daughter of two R&B-loving parents — her mother has a Prince tattoo, even — Hobart came of age to a soul soundtrack, weened on the likes of D’Angelo, Maxwell, Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind & Fire. She channels this side of herself much more palpably on her latest release, setting her supple voice against alternately punchy and purring horns.
On “shä bré el,” Hobart let’s the songs come to her, vocally ambling through them, as if taking the scenic route to the emotional center of her tunes. At times, her voice sounds porcelain-delicate, like during the opening strains of spare, aching ballad “No More Color.” Elsewhere, she gets a little brassier, doing so on the assertive funk of “Hummingbird,” where she compares herself to the titular creature (“Meanest bird in the yard / Tiny thing / But I have the strongest wings”).
It’s a confident-sounding, coming-into-my-own kind of record, which Hobart will celebrate with a free, all-ages CD release party Friday at Vinyl at the Hard Rock Hotel.
Not only did Hobart follow her creative muse on the EP, but she also produced it herself, figuring things out as she went.
“That was such a long process,” says Hobart, dressed in all black with a matching neckerchief. “It took me a couple of years to really wrap my brain around this, and then it probably took a year and a half to record this. When it came down to producing it, I really just had to sit in my room at night and listen to songs, ‘OK, this is what this person is doing, this is what this person is doing,’ how can I do that in my own way?’”
Ultimately, that’s what this record is all about, Hobart figuring out how to do things her own way.
She’s long possessed a gorgeous voice — now it’s truly her own.
“I really go for authenticity nowadays,” she says. “I just really wanted to be me.”
Read more from Jason Bracelin at reviewjournal.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.