I’ll be honest: it takes a hell of a lot these days for indie-folk music to get me out of my chair. Just because someone can fingerpick chords on a steel-string acoustic guitar and boost the recording echo with GarageBand software doesn’t mean they’ve created music that is “lonesome” or as “pure” as the pre-industrial world, never mind shown the need for such music. (Relatedly, do not get me started on ukeleles.) If I sound curmudgeonly, that’s because I’ve done too much time in the trenches of alternative music’s folk fetish — a thousand coffeeshops and a hundred college radio stations setting a “tasteful” mood with yesteryear’s Lilith Fair earnestness and this millennium’s mumbling self-absorption. Then along comes Julie Byrne, and I’m stopped in my tracks.
Within seconds of hearing Julie Byrne’s voice on “Follow My Voice,” the lead track off her new album Not Even Happiness, it becomes evident that this a genuinely special artist. The character and charisma of her breathy soprano establishes a presence of astonishing intimacy that beckons an emotional connection with the singer and her song. As “Natural Blue” illustrates, her acoustic guitar is spare and crystalline, while the intermittent string section and keyboard ambiance trace out subtle musical arrangements. Okay, I give in: Julie Byrne has clearly been called to service with her voice and musical vision.
Not Even Happiness is out now on Ba Da Bing Records.