Barby Holder,
Haunt Me Forever
(Barbary Coast, 1999)

Barby Holder's fourth CD, Haunt Me Forever, is, according to the liner notes, a compilation of some of Holder's favorite tunes. Not only does she sing, but she also plays guitar, hammered dulcimer and, on one track, harmonica.

This is not a great CD. The tracks are an unfortunate hodge-podge of traditional and not so traditional songs beginning with Holder's rendition of "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," a melancholy song for which her voice is not well-suited. Next up is "Sam Hall," the story of the thieving chimney sweep who was hanged for his crimes. Once again, Holder's voice is not dark enough for lyrics about a man who goes to the gallows.

The third track, "Goddesses/Parson's Farewell," is a pleasant, instrumental piece which does showcase Holder's ability with the hammered dulcimer. "The River" follows, a song with nice imagery, on which Holder plays guitar.

This is followed, most unfortunately, by "Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms," the old chestnut which is the bane of beginning musicians everywhere. Nothing Holder does improves it.

"Prince William," an instrumental track which proves that Holder's strength lies with the hammered dulcimer, is followed by a dirge-like rendition of "The Mingulay Boat Song." The liner notes describe this tune as a "rollickin' sea shanty." If this is rollickin', I'd hate to see funereal. Another instrumental piece, "Eleanor Plunkett/Flowers of Edinburgh" follows.

"My Grandfather's Clock" is sung in honor of Holder's recently deceased father, who apparently collected clocks. This is one of the better tracks on the CD; because she is singing for her father, there is more emotion evident in her voice. Holder next sings "Changes," by Phil Ochs.

The only original song on the CD is "I Forget" or "Haunt Me Forever," a song about forgetting dreams and an ex-lover. This is the only vocal track which truly shines. Perhaps because she is singing her own music, there is more depth and emotion in her singing than anywhere else on the CD. The listener wonders to whom Holder is singing. The final track, "Shut Up and Eat Your Grits Reel," is an up-tempo instrumental piece that gets much closer to "rollickin'" than anything else on the CD.

Holder does well on the instrumental tracks, especially "Goddesses/Parson's Farewell." The vocal tracks, however, are not as pleasing. Holder has an unfortunate tendency to chew her "r's" (as in "charrrms"), which is extremely grating. Her vibrato is too fast; she sounds like a machine gunner attacking any note longer than a beat's duration.

These flaws, however, are not nearly as noticeable during a live performance, which indicates that this CD is simply not a good showcase for Holder's talents. For the past six weeks, she has been spending weekends at the Sterling Renaissance Festival in Sterling, N.Y., where I had the privilege of seeing her perform. In person, Holder is an engaging, lively entertainer who relates well to her audience, especially smaller faire audiences. If you have an opportunity, I recommend seeing her in person.

She failed to capture that in the studio, however. Although there are a few nice tracks, by and large, Haunt Me Forever is not haunting and only memorable for how irritating it is.

[ by Laurie Thayer ]