Julia Stone

By the Horns

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The second outing from the female half of Australian sibling folk-pop duo Angus & Julia Stone is steeped in the sunset hue of 1970s California pop. Produced by Thomas Bartlett (the National) and Patrick Dillett (Mary J. Blige), By the Horns' greatest strength is also its biggest distraction. Stone's fragile voice is an acquired taste that falls somewhere between the primal affectations of Björk, the airy, pixie croon of Julee Cruise, and the throaty desperation of Stevie Nicks, but there's a soulfulness to it that lends a bit of phantom power to driving stand-out cuts like "It's All Okay," "With the Light," and "Justine." Elsewhere, the warm and hopeful "Let's Forget All the Things That We Say" impresses with its easy, bossa nova gait, and the brooding title cut lets a little light out of the room, proving that not everything on Highway 1 is postcard worthy. Darker, wiser, and more personally reflective than her work with Angus, By the Horns strikes a nice balance between standard, confessional singer/songwriter fare and radio-ready alt-pop, even offering up a cover of the National's "Bloodbuzz Ohio," which features National drummer Bryan Devendorf for good measure.

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