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Little Things

Toby Lightman

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Album Review

It's fortunate that Toby Lightman's vocals are so strong, since it's all that she can do to be heard over the electronic burble of her debut LP, Little Things (Lava/Atlantic). Peter Zizzo's production is furiously contemporary, with programmed percussion, intermittent string sections, shrill electric guitar, and layered vocal collages (of both Lightman's own voice and supporting harmonies) often choking the subtle acoustic chords that run throughout the record. About the only thing missing from the shallow bag of studio tricks is "Robo Toby," the processed vocal effect made infamous by the Matrix. Luckily, the young singer really does have a huge voice. Comparisons to Nelly Furtado and Lauryn Hill are valid; Lightman's phrasing is perfect and her singing's throaty and sassy, even if her lyrics are the usual mix of aw snap empowerment, romantic woe, and dear diary soul-searching. She's mature and confident over the light contemporary R&B of "Leave It Inside" — is that a Mary J. Blige influence? — and the processed poptronica of "The River" gives her some strong material as well. But Lightman's vitality really shines through in "Everyday," which finally, mercifully strips away the accompanying instrumentation to a simple and refreshing acoustic guitar line. The song suggests what Lightman might've sounded like before her tunes were shoehorned into the blatant and unimaginative MOR arrangements that clutter Little Things. They have pop hooks, sure, and the busy, ingratiating "Devils and Angels" or "Frightened"'s tasteful Dido-isms should appeal to casual listeners content with a pretty melody and a comfortably non-threatening smattering of not quite here, not quite there instrumentation. But Little Things' strict adherence to the now sound — as in what is destined to be so yesterday — doesn't give Lightman a fair chance at building an identity.

Biography

Born: 1978 in Cherry Hill, NJ

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Toby Lightman studied violin growing up in New Jersey, but it wasn't until college that she began to seriously consider a career in music. She studied radio and television at the University of Wisconsin, learning guitar in her spare time and singing with cover bands. After school Lightman moved to New York, where a fortuitous meeting with Wyclef Jean led to him producing her demo. The tape caught the attention of producer Peter Zizzo, who helped the young songwriter develop a light, marketable mix...
Full bio
Little Things, Toby Lightman
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