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Old Soul 

Sara Jackson-Holman is just learning as she goes.

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She’s chatting about her record deal when someone yells in the background: “Sara!” And Sara Jackson-Holman slightly stumbles over her words. It sounded like her mom signaling that it was time to do dishes or come down for supper.

Jackson-Holman, home on summer break from Whitworth University, is new to this press thing. New to playing shows. New to writing music, even.

Talking to her, she sounds her age: 21 years old, perky, chatty. It’s summer and she’s staying at home, writing music, hanging out. But on her debut record, the 12-song When You Dream, the Bend, Oregon, native feels much older. Her voice is thick and passionate, soulful and wise. A woman — not a girl — begging for time, for a break. She wants you to just, please, come back to her.

You haven’t heard of her because she hasn’t played very many live shows — only a few at Whitworth and a handful at Bend coffeehouses. In fact, it was at an open-mic night in Bend last summer when the course of her musical career changed completely.

Earlier that year, Jackson-Holman had left a comment on the MySpace page of Portland indie band Blind Pilot (whom she had seen at Empyrean). It was just a girly fan message:

“Jun 11, 2009 2:34 PM

just writing to say-- i am completely in love with your music.

i saw you at the empyrean show in spokane-- i think it would have been early march. and you guys were great.

and i know youre coming back to spokane june 21, but im home for the summer in bend :(

are you going to come back to spokane next year anytime? -sjh”

Before she took the stage at the open mic, she opened her laptop to check her e-mail. She had a message from Expunged Records — Blind Pilot’s label. They had clicked on her comment, heard her music on her profile and wanted to know if she had a demo.

“I had my laptop with me and I saw I had a new MySpace message … I was like ‘Mom! Mom! Look at this. Look what they wrote me!” (It’s a story you’ve heard before: Spokane’s Kaylee Cole had a similar experience when she e-mailed TV on the Radio with a similar compliment. Make a comment and — boom! — recording contract.) Just two months later, Jackson-Holman had a contract with the label to make two records.

Though she’s new to actually writing songs, Jackson-Holman has been playing classical piano since she was 6 years old.

“My mom had told me that I should write music. She told me that for several years. And I was, like, ‘No way, Mom. That’s not my thing.’” But at Whitworth, where she studies music, it became her thing. Poetry evolved into songs — mature, metaphorical ones sprouting from a rich landscape of classical music. Though she’s young and bubbly on the outside, from the sound of it, Jackson-Holman is much older and wiser inside.

“I just sat down one day at the piano and wrote a song. It just kind of happened,” she says. “I would say that, like, the first songs I wrote were about my experiences I had at that time. At this point, I’m growing up and I’m learning how to be an adult, and that’s going to come through in the songs I write from now on.”

Sara Jackson-Holman plays with Union Street at Empyrean on Tuesday, July 6, at 8 pm. $5. Call 838-9816.

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