Album Review: Once, Or Twice

OK, now I can talk about the free stuff. Actually, not yet. First, a little background. This is a review of the newest album by a terrific artist named Julia Barry. She was the SoundClouder of the Day on SoundCloud a month or two ago (where SoundCloud spotlights various users & artists for a day), and after checking the songs she had up on her profile, I was completely hooked. So here’s the review of “Once, Or Twice”…stay tuned right afterwards for details on how you can win some free stuff. And some other cool items of business. 🙂

Album: Once, Or Twice

Album Artist: Julia Barry

Released: July 2010

There are few things reviewers tend to use more than comparisons. Perhaps it’s a way to make music look more competitive…or to make a tangible connection to the reader as to what avenue the artist being reviewed is taking…or just a way to throw around names for kicks and giggles. Heck, sometimes even the musicians themselves end up using comparisons, in order to draw people with similar tastes to their craft. Whatever the reason, it’s hard for a musician to escape comparisons (whatever they may be) in today’s music world, and for female singer/songwriters, it’s often been vogue for one singular name to pop up over and over again…that of Joni Mitchell. If a woman plays piano and/or guitar, sings, and writes something anywhere near introspective, she must be the second coming of Joni Mitchell. Sometimes, these comparisons are slightly misplaced…the artist in question may be outstanding, but they may have little to do with the legendary Canadian singer/songwriter. The essence of Joni is sometimes hard to place, and all too often it ends up misplaced when used in reference to contemporary female artists.

Which makes it all the more interesting that the first name that came to mind when I sat down and listened to Julia Barry’s new album “Once, Or Twice” was…Joni Mitchell. Sonically, the two women aren’t quite the same…Julia brings a much more jazz-fueled, at times blues-tinged aesthetic to her music, while the jazz influences in Mitchell’s music have mostly remained either incredibly subtle or readily apparent. But there’s something about Julia Barry’s music that finds a kindred spirit in what Joni Mitchell has become so well-known and beloved for. “Once, Or Twice” is a lush, rich record full of beautiful, haunting music, sung by a voice that’s all at once pure, flexible, and expressive. What’s more, Julia Barry has a unique gift for songwriting and storytelling. Her songs paint a picture…often mysterious, sometimes unclear, almost always open to interpretation by the listener…but vivid and gorgeous all the same. She draws the listener in with warm, deeply personal songcraft, but at the same time stays enigmatic, revealing something new upon each listen.

The record starts off with “But Sweet,” a softly playful tune (with some terrific guitar work) that begins with the boldly adventurous line, “She was a sexy thing, and he liked that she secretly wore zebra underpants.” This is the kind of smoky, sultry number that could easily go wrong…but Julia keeps it grounded with an assured, lovely delivery, and an intriguing tonal shift in the latter part of the song. “Yet I Do” and “For Example” are both absolutely gorgeous ballads that practically radiate depth and beauty. (Barry’s crystal-clear upper register is used to devastating effect in the latter’s chorus.) “What Else” drives and flows with a unique urgency, and “Both Sides of the Moon” uses a quick, majestic piano intro to segue into a beautifully dark, textured swing.

Things keep getting better and better as the record goes on. “Everything Is Perfect,” where Julia is accompanied by only a guitar, is, well, pretty close to perfect. Arguably the best cut on the record, “Tell Me” is a subtly haunting bossa nova full of beautifully expressed heartfelt and loneliness. It practically begs for repeat listening. “Reverse” is also one of the album’s standouts, with some interesting slight rhythmic shifts, great lyrics, and a deeply melodic sensibility. “What If Love,” backed by luscious strings and piano, almost plays like a tone poem (think Joni Mitchell with “Paprika Plains”). “Canyon” is excellently soft and meandering, much like the barren desert landscapes it draws its imagery from. Finally, the album closer, “Homeward,” is strikingly written in a minor key, but makes a haunting balance between the light and the dark.

All in all, this is an outstanding album, full of life, spirit, and deep emotion. It’s beautifully sung, beautifully written, and beautifully performed, and isn’t just good for frequent listening…it deserves nothing less. Decades ago, Joni Mitchell made waves across the landscape of music with her haunting songcraft, and became an icon of the singer/songwriter genre. If there is any good in the world, Julia Barry will find the same success. With “Once, Or Twice,” she has certainly earned it.

 

*So now that you’ve read the review, you’re probably wondering how you can get this album. Or how you can find out more about Julia Barry. Guess what…you can! In about a week’s time, I’ll be posting an interview with Julia on this very blog. There are two contests that will be running in conjunction with the interview. First, you can win a free swag bag full of goodies from Julia (including “Once, Or Twice”). How? Just share the link to this very review on Twitter or Facebook. (You’re welcome to post it on both, but your entry will only be counted once.) The deadline for entry is Friday (though feel free to share Julia’s music, and this blog, long after that). In order for us to be able to find it easily, make sure to include the hashtags #harmonyavenue and #juliabarrymusic (whichever site you post it on). Here’s an example that you can feel free to copy and paste:

” Check out this review of  “Once, Or Twice” & RT to win goodies + CD! http://wp.me/p19uKQ-V #harmonyavenue #juliabarrymusic “

Also, you can become a guest interviewer! Sort of. Submit your question for Julia via the comments. I’ll pick the best one for use in the interview.

The winner of the giveaway will be announced next week when I post the interview. Go forth and share! Feel free to share Harmony Avenue, or Julia’s music, in general as well.

Happy entering! And do you want to try before you buy/win? Listen to “Once, Or Twice” here:  http://juliabarry.com/album.html.

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