"Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt"
Back Porch Records
Lily Holbrook developed her folk-rock songs by busking on the streets of Boston and Los Angeles, which led to her being featured in the street musicians documentary "Playing for Change." But rather than replicating that simple street sound on her sophomore album, "Everything Was Beautiful and Nothing Hurt," Holbook explores fuller arrangements, incorporating strings and pianos.
Holbrook's girlish coo bears a striking similarity to Jewel's breathy sound, and that innocence supports her lyrical themes about the struggles of growing up. She explores womanhood, from the objectification of her gender ("Make Them Wonder") to society's expectations of a woman's appearance ("Bleed"). Unfortunately, Holbrook's bluntness seems incongruous with the album's slick production. In fact, some of the studio polish -- such as the overlapping vocals on "Running Into Walls" -- works against her, giving her a too-generic sound.
Despite such sonic pitfalls, Holbrook finds ways to shake free from predictability. She reinvents Ozzy Osbourne's "Mama, I'm Coming Home" as a tender ballad and gives "Cowboys and Indians" majestically sparse instrumentation, allowing her ethereal vocals to rise to the forefront. Surrounding herself with fairy-tale imagery and memories of simpler times (even down to her album's title), Holbrook makes fragility her biggest asset, giving "Everything" a sound as innocent as it is honest.
-- Catherine P. Lewis
Appearing Monday at Iota with JJ Appleton and Andy Zipf.