Two years ago, Sara Jackson-Holman was a 21-year-old college student and classical pianist whose foray into writing pop songs had serendipitously caught the attention of Portland-based Expunged Records.
Back then, Jackson-Holman sat “wide-eyed" in a studio, she said in an interview last month, as those songs bloomed into a wonderful debut album called “When You Dream."
My, how things have changed.
Tonight, Jackson-Holman will celebrate the release of her second album, “Cardiology," with a show at Greenwood Playhouse (see “If you go"). It's a homecoming of sorts for the Portland-area resident, who graduated from Mountain View High School in 2007.
“Cardiology" is a more lush, beat-driven and fully realized collection of Jackson-Holman's breathy piano-pop songs than the debut, for a bunch of reasons. Here are three of them:
• The learning curve. “For the first (album), my approach to songwriting was very organic," Jackson-Holman said. “I would sit outside in a grassy field and have a little notebook and write poems and put them to music. It was very much a songwriter thing.
“And there still is that, but ... I wasn't even thinking about other elements or textures or anything. And then I get in the studio and I see all these options that are available to me."
As a result, “Cardiology" has a couple of songs that are essentially just piano and voice, but the rest are draped with effects and the electronic touches of producer Keith Schreiner. Speaking of which ...
• Keith Schreiner. Inspired by her blossoming love of hip-hop (she cites Kanye West's “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" as an influence), Jackson-Holman connected with Schreiner, a Portland-based producer gifted with an ear for electro-pop. (You may know his work with Stephanie Schneiderman.)
“I knew I wanted to go more in an electronic direction," she said. “(Keith) was super good at seeing where I wanted to go and listening to me and my vision for the song, and then helping me create it. His experience was so helpful."
The debut's producer, Skyler Norwood, also worked on the new one, helping Jackson-Holman keep some of her more organic sound.
“I don't really want a box to be put around my music," she said. “I love writing those little songs, too. Retaining that is important to me."
• Good ol' maturity. Jackson-Holman is now 23, which isn't old, but it is older. Over the past two years, she has moved, played shows, lived her life and learned a lot.
“'Cardiology' feels like a very personal album to me. I can take a lot of ownership of it, both the production and the songs themselves. They're very representative of growing up over the past couple years," she said. “My only hope is that it resonates with people on some sort of personal level, because that's really why I write songs. I want to communicate with people in that way."