Claire Holley


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Sanctuary is a collection of traditional gospel songs, tinged with the tasteful modernism that defines Claire Holley's sound. While she inhabits a familiar midrange vocally, Holley's delivery is steeped in her own unique inflections. The overall effect is one of "Hmm, I think I've heard this before, but it was friendly as hell then, so why not pull up a chair now?" This homey notion is only strengthened by Sanctuary's lived-in material. "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" and "In the Bounty of the Lord" are as warm as a campfire singalong, while "Once in Royal David's City" moves through atmospheric reverb. That's the interesting thing about Sanctuary. Holley and her talented supporting players could have easily run through these songs with the ease of a Sunday afternoon jam session, locating the groove somewhere between church's morning reverence and dinner's early evening hubbub. Instead, tracks like "Now the Green Blade Riseth" take bold steps with arrangement. Is that a back-masked guitar there? Moves like these place the album in line with the contemporary Americana of Emmylou Harris or Nanci Griffith -- artists unafraid to soak their country roots with the rich red wine of experimentation. Despite its ambition, Sanctuary is still a very quiet album -- instead of being her breakthrough, it seems designed to set up Holley's next move. The album's inventive and inviting layers prove that move is ready to be made.

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