A transient singer/songwriter who was raised in Buffalo, New York, Julie Byrne returned not only to her hometown but to the house where she grew up to record Not Even Happiness, her Ba Da Bing Records debut. Not new to recording, her prior work includes additional vocals for Jordan Lee's more expansive but similarly pastoral Mutual Benefit, as well as cassettes of her own material. Here, she reestablishes what has been her trademark: delicate, dreamy folk governed by a quiet melancholia. Throughout, guitar picking and the squeak of fingers changing position accompany a soft, smoky vocal delivery that seems resigned to solitude. Frequent comparisons to Joni Mitchell are apt, though only Mitchell at her gentlest, as Byrne floats through a track list that includes titles like "Follow My Voice," "Sleepwalker," and "All the Land Glimmers Beneath." "Morning Dove" has a chorus reinforced by the muted hum of string-like synths. The song remembers the sound of singing "from your lips, which splashed my dollhouse with music," in a time before betrayal. With a hint of bossa nova, "The Sea as It Glides" has syncopated acoustic guitar eventually joined by electronics, underscored throughout by the sound of waves along the shore. Water and the notion of solitude together capture the sound and spirit of the album, at least in broad strokes. In fact, the title Not Even Happiness was inspired by a sunrise stroll along the Atlantic during which the songwriter caught herself thinking that she wouldn't trade that feeling for anything, "not even happiness." While the album makes more of an impression as a whole than do individual songs, it makes a lasting one.
AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson