Keep calm and sing on
Sandra Dolores goes solo, embraces a soft folk sound
If Sandra Dolores had her way, she would have ended up writing books. She’s always liked telling stories, she just doesn’t like the restrictions of the format.
“When you’re in a creative story class, they tell you that you need character, you need a plot, you need a conflict and then you need a resolution,” she says. “My stories would go on and on forever because I could never end them.”
Songwriting, she says, takes a different approach.
“Songs you can resolve musically—the story doesn’t have to resolve and that’s how life is,” says Dolores, who will show off that skill this Saturday, March 12, at Harlow’s Restaurant & Nightclub.
When Dolores applied those storytelling techniques to songwriting, it clicked. Still, she didn’t get serious about the medium until she was in her late 20s. By then she’d already been married and then divorced and, so, suddenly had a lot to write about.
“My ex-husband, he’s a great guy, but that life wasn’t for me. I watched a lot of TV, I did a lot of couch-sitting, I didn’t ever go see live shows,” Dolores says. “When I got back to it, the floodgates opened.”
At first, Dolores wrote a lot but most of the songs didn’t necessarily go anywhere. She describes most of it as being of the “poor me” variety. Still, she found it a necessary step in the creative process toward becoming a full-fledged songwriter. Along the way she learned much about the art of subtlety. She learned, too, about crafting a greater degree of impact through imagery and writing open-ended lyrics with characters whose motivations weren’t always clear.
Now, all of this is conveyed beautifully by Dolores’ smooth, gorgeous voice and easy, folk-pop writing style.
“I’ve gotten better at telling [stories] in a way that’s not too specific to me or to any one gender or any age or anything. It can be universal,” Dolores says.
Originally from Lodi, Dolores moved first to Stockton in 2009, and then to Sacramento in 2011. She started out playing solo, and then went through a few different backing bands, but eventually returned to performing by herself again.
Next month she’ll release her third album, Back to the Start. There’ll be a house party to launch it (details for which can be found on her website) and also a tour.
In many ways, Dolores says, the album represents a significant milestone. Her first album, 2011’s Wait and See, featured a full band. The second, Anima, featured a few guest musicians. Now, as the title suggests, here Dolores is circling back to where she started, writing and performing alone.
Since moving to Sacramento, Dolores has booked several regular gigs, including one at the Delta King, the Old Sacramento riverfront destination that primarily attracts a tourist crowd that dramatically ranges in age. As such, her sets cater to an older audience and include several covers of artists such as James Taylor, Carole King and Linda Ronstadt.
Dolores says she likes the freedom such a job gives her—no need to worry about pleasing a millennial audience.
Hip? Probably not. Timeless? Definitely.
“I wish I could say it was heavy folk-rock, but it’s not,” Dolores says of her style. “It’s the kind of music people would want to have a glass of wine and relax on a back porch and listen to. … I’ve embraced that I can calm people down. My music will literally calm you down. It’s weird.”