American singer/songwriter Julie Byrne fulfills the classic image of a troubadour with her travelogue music and poetic lyrics.
Byrne’s musical depth is a reflection of a city-hopping existence as an artistically driven choice. Byrne’s second album, Not Even Happiness brings out the serenity that folk singers like Judy Collins radiate.
While Collins opts for popular cover songs, Byrne keeps it simple — her music is both earthy and dreamlike.
The accompaniment of Not Even Happiness has the space to match Byrne’s songs: some synth or keyboard but not much else is needed. A guitarist with fine finger picking skills, she fills the space and keeps the flow gliding.
The female folk singer/guitar player image is enduring, with many of Byrne’s predecessors also sisters bearing the letter J: Joan, Judy, Joni, etc. Byrne is a smoother singer than her Mariposa bound forebears. The drama is muted and Not Even Happiness is mellow with Byrne’s voice becoming that of a friendly siren. It’s that quality that marks this record as a departure. Rarely does an acoustic based folk singer sound so effortlessly alluring. On the tracks Melting Grid, All the Land Glimmered and Sea As It Glides, her vocal and picking are a peaceful balm, aided and reinforced by the big room ambiance and analog feel of the production.
Byrne follows in the British/Irish vocal tradition rather than the North American model with her music being abstract and mythic rather than topical. She’s a spellbinder and her songs bring tranquility to wherever they’re played.
–Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon-based musician who reviews the latest music releases in his column, Street Sounds, every Friday.