Jennah Barry “Holiday” (Forward Music Group, 2020)

Phrases like charming, lovely or sweet are deemed as virtual insults these days – anaemic praise for something soft or unconvincing – but Jennah Barry’s new album, ‘Holiday’, deserves all these descriptions in the most positive way. This is music that will wash over you like the warmest and softest of blankets highlighted by her warm and smoky vocals.

Barry, an ex-member of The O’Darling, hails from Nova Scotia and has made this album in partnership with her partner in music and life, Colin Neavis. It documents Barry’s ruminations on life, including motherhood, whilst she had to put her career on hold due to vocal surgery. ‘Holiday’, a tongue-in-cheek title, chosen to mock the medical career-break, was written, arranged and recorded by Barry at her self-built home.

Her work is compared to that of fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell though her voice is fuller and less shrill than that of Ms Mitchell; that said Barry would lose out in the lyrical stakes, Mitchell being far superior on that front. Vocally, a more apt comparison might be Norah Jones; her press release suggests Jenny Lewis, Faye Webster and Bedouine for comparison.

Barry knows how to use her voice and, as well as having a good range, she wisely avoids the sometimes painful forays into the higher registers that so many artists seem to love – think Lucinda Williams at her shoutiest.

It’s not a long collection and the mood is sustained throughout, apart from perhaps the last track, sparser and with an unusual and effective military beat. Scattered throughout the rest of the album are horns, woodwind, synthesisers, mellotron, lap steel, pump organ and even Barry on the unique sound of the Casio. Led by Barry and Nealis it’s something of a musical cast of thousands – not surprising given the range of instrumental variety – but always integrated into the overall sound and sympathetic to the singer.

The lyrics are of that brand of highly personalised, slightly cryptic wordplay that might be better heard than read – especially given that what shines here is the voice. The singer’s appreciation of her work is as follows:
You know when you were a kid, listening to music on headphones, and put your head against the window, pretending to be in a movie? Pretty much everything I write, I want that feeling. I want everyone who listens to lean their head against the backseat of a car, dreaming about their life.”

Maybe a log fire, warm toes and a glass of something nice might be equally fitting. So there it is. A voice so warm and lush you feel it could break into a torch song any minute and arrangements and playing that blend seamlessly throughout.

A second album and a vocal delight
8/10

Author: Gordon Sharpe

Music fan for more than 50 years and I think it gets better than ever - I love the Americana scene.

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