Toby Lightman: Little Things

[29 April 2004]

By Andrew Ellis

To paraphrase the Barenaked Ladies, in music, it’s all been done before. Yet, in the sea of homogeneity and mediocrity that is the current music scene, singer-songwriter Toby Lightman proves on her debut release, Little Things, that it is possible to create something new and exciting from classic and contemporary influences.

The 25-year-old New Jersey native’s music exudes class and originality in spades, with her material segueing elements of pop, soul, R&B, and rock into one glorious package. More than that, though, Lightman’s soulful pop tones stand out like a breath of fresh air in a stale, smoke-filled room.

The first single, “Devils and Angels”, perfectly emphasises the typical approach taken on Little Things: bright, busy acoustics, thumping drum programming, and R&B-fused samples behind Lightman’s sassy vocals and mesmerising hooks and melodies. It’s an irresistible combination that continues on the fabulous “Coming Back to You”, a terrific song about continually being drawn to the flame of a past lover.

On a debut album, you only expect such moments of brilliance occasionally, but surprisingly, they are scattered all over the course of the album’s 12 tracks like confetti on a churchyard. “Frightened” follows a more traditional pop ballad route, but still takes one or two twists in its journey, while “Front Row” tackles the issue of male groupies in a sophisticated, compelling way. Perhaps one of the most blatantly R&B-flavoured tunes on the album, it’s still instantly memorable and embraces some of her classic soul influences most obviously, until she scats impressively in the middle eight. Then the contemplative acoustic number “Everyday” shifts the style of the album once more in expert fashion, until “Don’t Wanna Know” shows Lightman’s voice drenched in emotion against some delicate and captivating piano and acoustic guitar work.

“Voices” is yet another impressive, groove-laden composition, and like opener “Leave It Inside”, has a rockier vibe than Lightman’s other material. It could easily have been the choice for first single, along with several other contenders, such is the strength of the material on Little Things.

Lightman has had some high-profile help along the way, with Peter Zizzo (svengali for Avril Lavigne and Vanessa Carlton) producing the album and Nile Rodgers playing guitar on several cuts. Wyclef Jean also worked with Lightman on her demo material, and the talent he undoubtedly saw in those first raw efforts is spectacularly realised on dreamy, atmospheric closing track “Running Away”.

It’s amazing to think that Lightman only discovered her singing voice by accident and never started writing her own material until she was at college. But with a voice and songwriting talent as captivating and mesmerising as hers, it’s clear Little Things could be the start of something very, very big.

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