Sunshine From MarsKate Barclay Solstice Records
PO Box 1281
St. Albans, VT 05478
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
There is hardly anything new under the sun. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that it has already been written elsewhere that the first thing you notice about this recording is its cover - a shot of Kate Barclay, showing her very intense blue eyes. Her facial expression seems to tell us that she's got more than a tiny bit of self-confidence.
A native of Vermont, Kate Barclay is a renowned twelve-string guitar player. That's probably why this recording places such a strong emphasis on guitars. Her music is best described as guitar driven folk-pop. There have been comparisons to Jewel, Sarah McLachlan and Tori Amos. I don't think this is really accurate, mainly because these artists all have their roots firmly planted in pop. Kate Barclay's music is not that easily categorized, although on some of the tunes she does sound like Lisa Loeb's twin sister. This has more to do with vocal similarities than anything else. Barclay's voice has a wider range of qualities, sometimes showing an earthiness that is closer to a Tracy Nelson than to any of the aforementioned pop muses. Yes, Kate Barclay has a superb voice!
There are influences other than folk and pop to be discerned in Barclay's music, be it the jazz shadings on Fire In The Hole, or the blues at the base of How About You And Me. The anti-handgun song Stop The Violence has all of the ingredients of a hippy anthem, including the obligatory congas. And guesting on this track is Trey Anastasio from Phish, the legitimate successors of the Grateful Dead.
What is a bit peculiar here is that the album seems to be divided into two parts, with the first part being fully produced, while the second part has a much sparer sound. The sequencing doesn't make much sense to me. I highly recommend the use of the random button of your CD player in order to achieve a more balanced listening experience. Bluntness, social awareness and feminism are part of Barclay's lyrics. They don't come with a know-it-all attitude, but with an underlying fragility and sometimes an element of mockery. My favourite song here is All I Want, a simple song of longing. Not too folky, but not over-produced either. It provides a setting in which Barclay's voice can show all of its brilliance. Another highlight is Keep On Singing, a song about the redeeming power of singing, which helps carrying on the cycle of life. It includes a fabulous interplay of banjo and toy piano.
All in all this is an excellent CD, but it does include two or three songs that are a bit patchy in places. A more focused, less uneven production would have improved the overall quality of the recording. But there is enough good music here to keep this CD on the top shelf!
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All songs by Kate Barclay
Edited by Roberta B. Schwartz