by Chris Hatch
As the steel guitars and softly, shuffling drums slowly melt into focus on Jennah Barry’s Holiday, you can almost feel the oxytocin levels in your bloodstream rise, and the warm, fuzzy feeling start to drift its way through your body. The Canadian singer-songwriter has had an eventful time since her debut album. Emergency vocal chord surgery and the birth of her daughter over the last few years have been reminders of both the bad and good that can spring up in life – but on her sophomore release, there’s an initial air of acceptance and contentedness with her lot in life.
The album artwork’s pinwheel of muted pastel colours is the first indication of the marshmallowy-textured hybrid of Americana, folk, and soft rock that makes up Holiday’s DNA. Sunblushed hula music (Big Universe), girl group harmonies (No Dancer), and stripped-back folk (Pink Grey Blue) all land like gentle, dopamine-laced kisses to the forehead, while the delicate lullaby, Are You Dreaming?, feels like a beautiful, understated take on Audrey Hepburn’s Moon River.
But it’s not all syrupy-sweet. Instead, soulful horns and strings give bite to the record and add a playful, swaggering slink to the likes of album highlight, The Real Moon. In fact, it’s these touches that add a classy, timeless feel to the record – capturing the essence of late-Motown or maybe Natalie Prass’ debut album, they elevate Holiday to something that feels like it’s been around for a while.
It’s in the final act, however, that those initial feelings of contentment start to be questioned. The dreamy, contemplative, I See Morning, and album closer, Stop The Train, both find Barry in the midst of some soul-searching. The horns are pegged back a little and, instead, pulsing, astral synths are used to embellish Barry’s bigger-than-life line of questioning. It’s a shift that works brilliantly and forces you to re-think and re-assess the songs which have gone before – in doing so, you find that Barry has been searching for answers from the first track.
In the end, Holiday’s supple blend of warm folk and heartening soul is the perfect vehicle in which to join Barry on her ruminations. Her smooth, rounded voice has the hintest crack of maturity, as if she has just enough experience to comfort you in the fact that it’s okay not to have all the answers yet – and as long as she keeps producing albums like this, we hope she doesn’t find them just yet either.
Secret Meeting score: 80