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Victory Garden

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Album Review

Canadian singer/songwriter Laura Barrett's first full-length recording mines the same delicate, impossibly playful alternative folk milieu as her 2006 debut EP, Earth Sciences. Often compared to pixie harpist Joanna Newsom, Barrett's weapon of choice is the African thumb piano, a handheld cousin of the larger mbira made famous by South African artist Stella Chiweshe. Like Newsom, the intricate fingerpicking that her instrument requires yields a lush web of sound in which to lay her offbeat lyrics and sinewy melodies. Unlike Newsom, Barrett possesses a non-divisive set of pipes that are both pleasant and plain, recalling a young Shirley Collins, and the 12 disparate songs that make up Victory Garden benefit from her evenhanded delivery. Clearly versed in the scholarly side of the music world, Barrett's melodies are both familiar and otherworldly, twisting and turning like mid-'70s Joni Mitchell with a 21st century "freak folk" sheen, and it's a testament to her labyrinthine composition skills that the results are almost never cloying. Genres yield no property lines for Barrett, as she gleefully skips from folk ("Wood Between Worlds") to classical pop ("Escape to the Sun Dome") to torch song ("To the Stars") without ever breaking a sweat. Even when she misses the mark, like on the warbled, off-key French experimental indie pop number "Rien à Déclarer," it's hard not to root for her.


Born: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '00s

A virtuoso on the kalimba -- an African instrument also known as the thumb piano -- Toronto-based singer/songwriter Laura Barrett also plays with indie pop collective the Hidden Cameras. Barrett's own music is simpler, often consisting of just the kalimba and her voice, and often quirkier: she began her solo career with a very different cover of the grunge parody "Smells Like Nirvana," which she performed at a Weird Al tribute show. Her song "Deception Island Optimists Club," on the other hand, is...
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Victory Garden, Laura Barrett
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