It takes only a perfunctory listen to Claire Holley’s new album Time in the Middle to recognize the hold that’s maintained on her music by her Mississippi roots.
It takes only a perfunctory listen to Claire Holley’s new album Time in the Middle to recognize the hold that’s maintained on her music by her Mississippi roots. Soft, sweet and as unobtrusive as a slight summer breeze, it reflects that air of modesty and humility which is an inherent part of a true Southern spirit. That in itself gives this set a special distinction, one that imbues these melodies with a quiet, comforting quality all their all. “Every little thing going to be alright,” she cues repeatedly on opening track “Three Little Birds”, and in that very instant, and through every song that follows, there’s no doubting her reason or reassurance.
Of course, in an uncertain world, there’s rarely cause to take heart, and so even the biggest cynic and skeptic could be forgiven for pulling back from this calming caress. However, Holley’s maintained this stance throughout most of her career, ever since her independently released debut in 1999. By the time she released her third album she was signed to Yep Roc Records, a label that allowed her to further explore her sensuous stance. Even so, her radiant melodies often made it all too easy to take her efforts for granted. Fortunately then, she’s seen steady success composing for film, television, theater and fundraisers, allowing her to find forums where her talents could be fully utilized and appreciated. But for all the praise accorded by the pundits, she’s still in search of the wider recognition that’s come to fellow folkies like Janis Ian and Mary Chapin Carpenter. Given the similarity in style, justice would demand that she gets a similar measure of regal recognition as well.
Whether or not Time in the Middle earns her that distinction remains to be seen. Some may find its haunting, cerebral sound too passive to warrant further consideration. Only a pair of songs - the playful, percussive “Love in a Bowl” and a noisy number dubbed “Bone” - break that sensual spell, and those alone may not be enough to turn people’s heads and grab any real notice. Yet, given time and attention the music tenuously takes hold, its lithe charms and seemingly effortless approach offering an air of gentle repose. It’s damn near impossible to listen to a tune like “How You Fly” and not be affected by its translucent glow. And when Holley wraps her melody around the ethereal arrangement that accompanies “Kudzu”, the effect can be simply mesmerizing.
Ultimately Time in the Middle offers proof that for all the world’s distractions, there’s something to be said for quiet resolve and an unwavering embrace. The bittersweet desire that permeates songs such as “Time in the Middle” and “Be Still” bolsters reason for hope in happenstance. And given the sorry state of affairs we find ourselves in today, isn’t that reason enough to give pause for Holley while she works her charms?