Lily Holbrook,
Everything was Beautiful & Nothing Hurt
(Back Porch, 2005)

"When I first moved to Los Angeles, it seemed like there were people coming at me from every direction trying to convince me to become the next Britney Spears," Lily Holbrook says of her song "When in Rome," which, as Holbrook suggests, "was written in protest to that conformist mentality." If only the album had been produced in protest to that mentality, we might have had a great record on our hands.

Fraught with the contrived melancholy of a Backstreet Boys ballad, Lily Holbrook's second album starts off with a handful of desperately produced tracks as her voice -- widely lauded for its "fragility" and distinctiveness -- strains so painfully for the seductive moan of precisely the kind of pop divas she claims to rebuke.

For all the consolidation within the music industry, labels like Back Porch are bright lights amid so much bleak homogenization. The pompous, hollow production of tunes like "Make Them Wonder," though -- a puerile attempt at cultural observation -- demonstrates just how woefully out of place such material is when it falls into the hands of a label that is home to such luminaries as John Hammond, Charlie Sexton and the Neville Brothers.

As a songwriter, Holbrook often bites off far more than she can chew. "They're all fucked up on the American Dream," she brays on "Make Them Wonder." Just who is this "they" she is speaking about? She sure does make us wonder. Holbrook's unfortunate interest in making statements rather than writing songs makes the album's production sound like an attempt at covering up the artist's shortcomings rather than enhancing her work.

There is nothing about this exercise in excess that reflects the great reputation of the label by which it was released. Holbrook needs to take a step back and return to the "busking" she did in the subway stations of Boston, crooning along to the spare accompaniment of a single unplugged guitar as passersby lingered over a song or two and maybe even coughed up a dollar.

- Rambles
written by Gianmarc Manzione
published 26 March 2005

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