Lily Holbrook is no stranger to performing. After getting her start busking in Boston’s subway stations and on street corners, she honed her craft and created a small buy loyal buzz in small clubs. Although it’s a story that been told countless times before about singers making their mark slowly and deliberately, Holbrook’s has a tragic twist to it. Dedicated to Christopher Holbrook, who passed away in 1994 at the age of 24, Holbrook’s album is full of dreamy lullabies and an almost ethereal quality to her voice and work. And while many would draw obvious comparisons to Tori Amos and Jewel, there is enough originality in the album that sets her apart from the corporately created fray.
Starting off the album is an orchestral lullaby in “The Snow”. Featuring violins and cellos, the song is more in the vein of Aimee Mann’s somber and slightly melancholy sound. But Holbrook’s vocals are extremely soft but rarely fragile, resulting in an incredibly smooth delivery time after time. The lyrics here are also deep and poignant, particularly “It’s coming again / A time when pain is God / A poltergeist prison / A blackening vision”. “Mermaids” is more melodic, featuring more of a pop sound with touches of strings. The tune never does break out completely from its shell, creating a steady tension that works well. A fair comparison would be Vanessa Carlton, but it’s definitely not as slick or overtly produced to its credit. The track fades out for too long though.
“Spaceship” is similar to the previous song, but Holbrook breaks out of her comfort level, showcasing a very pretty voice that is used sparingly, more like a backing instrument. It’s also more of a folk-oriented coffeehouse track along the lines of Jewel. The arrangement resembles “Eleanor Rigby” in brief instances. In other portions of the album, the tone consists of a definitive Celtic angle a la Enya or Cara Dillon. “My Little Diary” is a good example of this, with some keyboards emitting a sound of reeds or flutes. One of the oddest tracks here is “Little Red Riding Hood”, an ominous track that has several quirky twists in its two minutes. It’s perhaps the weakest track of the nine here.
The second half of the album consists of two songs that are rather lengthy but the best songs here. Starting with “Slipping”, Holbrook seems to hit all the right notes in just the right places. “And maybe I should’ve tried to save you / But I was looking to be saved myself”, she sings as the song evolves into a much wider sonic landscape like a Pink Floyd arrangement. It’s quite impressive that the number maintains its flow and strength over six minutes, but it does rather effortlessly. “Another Winter” is another orchestral lullaby that features a “tiny box dancer” sound within. “I’ll carry your torch / I’ll take the blame / I’ll be the cradle for your flame”, is another hint at the album’s theme and Holbrook’s personal trials.
Holbrook never strays from her sweet ethereal vocals, but gives occasional hints at pop songs, particularly during the pretty “King’s Castle”. Ending with another lengthy track in “Dandelion”, Holbrook offers up a percussion-oriented track that is very organic and a departure from the rest of the record. It veers into a Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper” wall of sound, with various instruments and effects thrown in over time, including some tapes of home recordings of her and perhaps Christopher Holbrook singing Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog”. It’s an album both should be proud of.
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// Notes from the Road
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