By Devon Hannan, Features Editor
Key Tracks: “Natural Blue,” “Melting Grid,” “I Live Now as a Singer”
Julie Byrne’s sophomore album, Not Even Happiness, shows innermost, delicate emotion while traveling between small towns and large cities. Carried by the most intricate guitar and airy woodwinds, Byrne’s voice rings deeply with heartbreaking lyricism. While this album may not be interesting, per se, its appeal is in its simplicity. It must not be mistaken, that while this album will appeal to those that love singer-songwriters and folk artists alike, this album was made for Byrne herself.
Not Even Happiness works best as a full concept. While tracks are enjoyable on their own, it is meant to be listened to from beginning, to “Interlude,” to end – like a tender bedtime story. Running over just 30 minutes, Byrne’s tales flow effortlessly into one another. In “Melting Pot,” and many songs like it, the delicate guitar serves as the album’s characters, but Byrne’s voice is the strongest of narrators; “Colorado, Wyoming, Helena into the Evergreen / The waves washed all thought of endeavor that was left in me.”
That being said, Byrne’s voice summons the second coming of Judy Collins. In a world so entranced with the challenge of being different, it is often forgotten how beautiful the classics are. The roots of modern folk music are so often masked by the loud introduction of diverse instrumentation by including horns and synths, but Not Even Happiness doesn’t let you forget how far you can get with good guitar work and simple, haunting vocals.
On the contrary, there are plenty of these modern folk artists who have been in the game for much longer and can already grasp the perfect balance between ingenuity and accessibility. If Byrne could just fill in the final missing factor, she could easily be on her way to being considered a classic folk artist and not just another singer with that all too classic sound. Does the world really need another Laura Marling?
Byrne ends her ode to the road with “I Live Now as a Singer”, a track that reflects a wandering helplessness in the most beautiful way. Full of melancholy, drawn out strings, Byrne’s final words teach us that a home doesn’t have to have a brick foundation. Whatever Not Even Happiness lacks, it makes up for in honesty.