Heidi Berry

Below the Waves

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After the generally good vibes of Firefly, the starker performances on Below the Waves must have come as a surprise to many of Heidi Berry's fans. Without changing her excellent singing in the slightest, Berry and her arranger, Christian Lunch, replaced the light folk-rock of Firefly with a more ambient and, often times, quite haunting backing. Brother Christopher Berry's fine acoustic guitar work stays at the center -- but stripped of the band, both it and her vocals stand out with a gorgeous clarity, accentuated by a soft layer of reverb applied throughout the disc. Her lyrics are much clearer as well; her calm detailing of "blood on your hands" in "Little Tragedy" could easily have been lost in the mix had the song been performed on Firefly. Not everything is sonically downbeat -- sprightly guitar helps add a slight musical jauntiness to "Riversong" -- but generally, though, Below emphasizes ruminative lyrics and calm music. The title track is especially fascinating, with a low rumble of sound beginning and ending the song on a slightly disturbing note. Violin and cello appear on a number of songs, deepening the melancholy and sorrowful undertow of many of them. By no means, however, is the record a specifically sad one. If anything, Berry seeks to bring out a careful reflection through her music, as on the lengthy, powerful "Northshore Train," with such slice-of-life observations as "the electric towers stand in line on water's edge." A number of tracks favor keyboards or pianos instead of guitar, often to grand effect: The slow combination of organ swells and bass notes on "Gather All the Hours" creates a lovely bed for Berry's singing. Ending with the elegant "Dancer," Below is an underrated treasure.

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