Canadian songwriter Jennah Barry recorded her second studio album, Holiday, in 20-minute increments while taking care of her newborn daughter. It’s her first release in eight years, following up her debut Young Men from 2012. Created in her Nova Scotia home, in a house she helped build, Barry’s new project possesses a time-in-place quality set on the simple meditations of every day life. The album is produced by her partner Colin Nealis who has most recently and most prominently worked with Andy Shauf. Nealis throughout this project demonstrates a talent for injecting vivid detail without overtaking Barry’s performances.
The first track immediately showcases Barry’s affinity for 70s folk rock in the vein of Joni Mitchell. Classic American guitar swells make way for her patient, warm vocal delivery. It carries with a waltz-like energy backed by shuffling strums and flirtatious keys. “Sing little bird, no one is listening,” she proclaims, demonstrating Barry’s outlook in between hopeful optimism and pragmatic pessimism.
“Roller Disco”, Holiday’s first single, prominently features nostalgic strings. It’s a display of economical songwriting much like that of Carole King or Dusty Springfield. She describes the emotion of the song as “gentle sadness”. “Cause a ghost in me ought to find who I belong to,” she explains, once again fuelling contentment within a distinct moment. “The Real Moon” is an exercise in elemental stargazing. Mystifying strums are amplified by gentle horn and strings subtly filling up space.
“I’ve always experimented with my spirituality,” Barry says about the song “Big Universe”. Calling on the early Nashville country with its slide guitar twang, Barry questions the greater meaning of existence. “There was a period in my life where I read my horoscope no matter how goofy the source was,” she describes. “I was circling the drain a bit and was desperate for someone to tell me what to do. The horoscope writer for US Weekly did not help me with this. “Big Universe” is about that.” Next, “Are You Dreaming” is the album’s shortest track. It’s fairytale-like with its stripped down, simple melody.
“Rocket” is the most energetic cut, moved along by a simple but punchy drum rhythm throughout. Nealis’ production is at its fullest here – backing vocals, bass, and woodwinds all play prominent rolls here along with Barry’s lead voice.
“I See Morning” has Barry putting on her rose-coloured glasses. She is clearly influenced by the hazy, romanticised filter of Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour (2018). The recording here is at its most intimate. It feels so close to Barry that you can hear her fingers switching chords on her guitar neck. It’s her personal favourite cut on the album.
“Park Grey Blue” is an innocent, cynicism-free love song. Swirling strings and hazy guitar give life to this weightless, carefree track. The closure, “Stop The Train”, which Barry describes as “a metaphor for whether pursuing music was still worth it at all,” is the most emotive song on the album. Cinematic keys and droning strings are thrown in to make this sound like the grand finale it’s supposed to be. It’s not poorly executed, but it is also fairly stereotypical.
“You know when you were a kid, listening to music on headphones, and put your head against the window, pretending to be in a movie?” Barry says about her thought process going into this project. “Pretty much everything I write, I want that feeling. I want everyone who listens to lean their head against the backseat of a car, dreaming about their life.”
Holiday is a perfectly fine album. But Barry doesn’t do much at all to add to the legacy of the songwriters she is inspired by. Not every track carries the same immediacy and excitement as others do. Still, with its shortcomings, there is a definite comfort in Barry’s voice and focus on present mindfulness.
Holiday is released Friday 27th March via Forward Music Group.