The tongue in cheek title to Jennah Barry’s new album Holiday belies the tortured eight-year path to this follow-up to her 2012 debut, Young Men. Depressed from spending too much time on the road alone, her voice began to shut down. Surgery was required, along with two years of speech pathology. Following all of that, the birth of her child required a new process for recording, Jennah has “come to realise that I work really well with time constraints. I can get a lot done in 20 minutes or however long the nap is.”
If there’s a surprise to Holiday, it’s how gentle sounding the album actually is. Partner Colin Nealis produced the album and took Jennah’s framework and created a series of masterfully sympathetic backing tracks. Over a bed of soft guitar with muted horns with keyboards washing through, ‘Roller Disco’ looks back in time at Jennah’s re-education, “’Round and around to the sound of the radio, caught in a turn till I learn how to let you go.”
The subtlety of keyboards and muted saxophone on ‘The Real Moon’ create a mood of questioning as Barry examines the nature of things, unable to judge the signs around her, “Around 12 o’clock I see a deer standing on a front lawn, looking very lost, staring back at me with the same thoughts.” The saxophone solo closing the song has faint echoes of the halcyon days of Al Stewart some four decades earlier.
In subtle ways, Holiday revisits many of the thoughts and fears that led to Barry’s throat surgery. She speaks with a clarity refined over years, “I make Grand Canyons in my brain I can’t escape. The only time I can write about it is when I find a way out.” ‘Big Universe’ speaks to this directly, “Full confusion ties you up in knots, always turning, never stop.”
Something of a lullaby to her daughter, ‘Are You Dreaming’ offers a line of advice we all need to remember, “Every day comes once then it’s over.” In a world where we relive and replay things creating an endless flow of questions, that may just be a piece of advice worth remembering.
There’s a remarkable sensitivity to the music of ‘Rocket’. Lyrically song speaks to the difficulty of breaking the pace that can develop, “’Cause once that rocket goes barreling, once someone is down on their knees, well, it breaks the peace and it’s never easy to stop.” The swirling keyboard plays off the steel guitar illustrating both sides of the story.
With Holiday, Jennah Barry has created a soundtrack to an inner world we don’t often get to view. It’s an unflinching look at things we usually don’t get to see, set to music that softens the blow without losing the message.