Ever since I first discovered Krista Detor with Mudshow, the California-born, Indiana based pianist/singer-songwriter has been one of my very favourite artists, her six albums to date consummate expressions of her articulate way with words and music, offering warm, insightful and empathetic observations of human emotions and lives with all their fragility, hope and despair.
With a pure, intimate and slightly smoky voice that suggests a darker timbre Judy Collins and influences that embrace Cohen, Randy Newman and Joni Mitchell, her songs can be achingly sad or inexpressively uplifting, her lyrics literate and perceptive (her Chocolate Paper Suites album was inspired by the writings of Federico Garcia Lorca, Dylan Thomas and Charles Darwin), her melodies softly soothing, embracing folk, blues and jazz tones to subtle effect.
Produced by her partner David Weber and recorded in her hometown Bloomington, Barely, as the title suggests, is a stripped down affair, the instrumentation limited to piano, accordion, guitar and organ, with just a splash of cello from Anne Hurley on one track. It’s presented as an eight track collection with two bonus recordings, of which more later.
‘Can I Come Over’ opens proceedings, a gentle song about a woman making shyly tentative advances to the man she fancies as she sings “can I come over if I swear I’ll like your mother?”, her impulsive forwardness offset with “I know I shouldn’t have called him… I’m sorry about that.” As seductions go, it’s pretty irresistible.
More uptempo with a bubbling organ pattern, the perkily folksy ‘Box Of Clouds’ (on which she leaves her beau behind) is a duet with Moira Smiley from Solas who provides harmonies and cooing backing vocals on a song that puts me in mind of Dory Previn crossed with First Aid Kit.
The piano-accompanied ‘Castle In Wales’ (apparently written in Bristol under the assumption she was in Wales) is an airy dreamily reflective wintery ballad that leads into the title track (featured on Folk Radio UK here), a gradually soaring song that seems to be about the way having so many things to do means you often take a relationship (marriage) for granted, but that doesn’t mean the love’s not there (“you’re barely here and she’s barely there, but from across a crowded room you’d know her anywhere”).
Introducing a bluesy tinge, especially in Weber’s electric guitar, Detor’s voice swooping from whispery soft to deeper notes, ‘From The Pedestal’ would seem to be about a sense relief that comes from not having to live up to others’ expectations, (“I lost myself to worry and the immanence of doubt”), glad to tumble to back to the ground (“although the view was nice”) surrounded by “ the stories of all the ways I left you down.”
Featuring ghostly accordion, ‘All The Calls’ reins things back in for another reflective slow waltz ballad of vulnerability and loss (“take my last dollar bill and my last sleeping pill…take away all that shatters, the things that don’t matter like all the calls I made to you”). The second of the album’s guests, opera singer Amanda Biggs, harmonises on the five-minute ‘For All I Know’, a tender mother’s song about her son and her hopes for his future, complete with a timely Star Wars reference, before the album proper ends with the chords tumbling ‘Too Fast’. Here Janis Ian meets Randy Newman on a song about life rushing past and of love enduring despite all the difficulties it may encounter that features the striking image of burning her journals “and stuff no one should ever see in case a bus hits me and you forget to hide them.”
The remaining two numbers are tagged as The Irish Sessions, the first of which, ‘The Coming Winter’, was co-penned by and features Irish folk singer Mary Dillon (sister of Cara), as well as cellist Anne Hurley, on a poignant song about the human cost of war.
The album closes on ‘Sweet Comes The Sound’, Detor harmonising with herself on a beautiful song dedicated to Tobar Mhuire, a Passionist Community and retreat centre in the heart of Crossgar, County Down, for those seeking to reflect on their human and spiritual development, and which, having referenced Christmas, ends with the refrain from ‘Silent Night’. As well as suggesting something that’s hardly there, barely also means without disguise or concealment. As such, this is Barely Brilliant.
Review by: Mike Davies
Released 15th October via Tightrope records
On Tour Now:
Wed 7. Grateful Freds @ The Atkinson, Lord Street, Southport, Merseyside
Fri 9. Seven Arts, 31A Harrogate Road, Chapel Allerton, Leeds, Yorkshire
Sat 10. St Cuthberts House 192 Main Street, Seahouses, Northumberland
Sun 11. Centre for Contemporary Arts, 350 Sauchiehall St, Glasgow, Scotland
Mon 12 Mick Murphys, Ballymore Eustace, County Kildare, Ireland
Thur 15. The White Horse Inn West Village, Ballincollig, County Cork, Ireland
Fri 16. Colfer’s Pub Carrick-on-Bannow, Wexford, Ireland
Sat 17. Levi’s Corner House Main Street, Ballydehob, County Cork, Ireland
Sun 18. Tobar Mhuire Cultural Center Downpatrick St, Crossgar, County Down, Ireland