Album Review: Julie Byrne, Not Even Happiness

Bewitching sophomore outing from Buffalo singer

Julie Byrne’s debut Rooms Without Walls And Windows inspired comparisons with the likes of Vashti Bunyan and Joni Mitchell. It was high praise indeed – and richly deserved.

On the follow-up, the ethereal Not Even Happiness, Byrne employs the same understated, stripped back, classic folk style, allowing her breathy vocals and intriguing lyrics to take centre stage.

A self-taught fingerpicker, her voice seems to transcend time. She is as reverent about the beauty of nature as she is true to her emotions. On ‘Follow My Voice’ she whispers “I’ve been called heartbreaker/ For doing justice to my own.”

Natural imagery is everywhere: in ‘Morning Dove’ she is “Walking in the wood by the river that never sleeps”; and in ‘Sea As It Glides’ lapping waves form an atmospheric backdrop.

Byrne uses her voice expressively, almost like an instrument. Her phrasing on ‘Natural Blue’ is clipped and she elongates certain fragments of words, forcing us to listen with an even keener ear.

Lyrically she deftly avoids cliché. We are jolted from a dreamy soundscape with a robust exclamation like: “Before you had I never known love/ or had I only known misuse of the power another had over me?” There’s stirring statements too. “Life is short,” she sings, “as a breath half-taken.”

A triumph.

 

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