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Julie Byrne soars into the new age folk tradition



“Follow my voice / I am right here,” Julie Byrne sings in opening lines of her 2017 record Not Even Happiness (Ba Da Bing). Its rippling melodies and diffuse spiritual yearnings will be familiar to fans of new-age hippie-coffee-shop folk like Nick Drake, Linda Perhacs, or Vashti Bunyan. But even if it’s well-traveled terrain, there’s no reason not to revisit it, especially with such an assured guide. Byrne’s got a full alto and a knack for surprising phrasing, splitting up words at unexpected intervals so lines like “Back on tour / driving through southwestern / towns that I’ve been in before” on “Natural Blue” almost lose their meaning, instead shimmering and falling away like the road under her wheels. Her guitar playing is also quietly inventive: on “Follow My Voice” she cannily and sublimely incorporates the scraping of her fingers as a percussive element, while on “Sleepwalker” she contrasts separate, simultaneous melody lines with a deftness that would make Mississippi John Hurt chuckle. The final song, “I Live Now As a Singer,” adds Enya-style keyboard washes to lyrics about nature, love, and questing. “At night beneath the universe you walk with me / Shall I be ever near the edge of your mystery?” Byrne’s brand of mysticism and romance is familiar, but all the sweeter for being so.   v

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