Johnston, Holly D. - Stretching The Sky,
This is the third album from Suffolk’s folk singer-songwriter, and I have been trying desperately hard to come up with the right words to describe it. So far I have delicious, seductive, compelling, beautiful, indispensable, folky, wonderful, enthralling, but none of them seem to quite do it justice so I’ll have to come up with one by the end of the review. In many ways I find myself being reminded of Cath Mundy and Sandy Denny in terms of vocal style, as she has wonderful clear delivery with a great range (also going into the lower register which is nice to hear for a change), and just from reverb on the voice. The arrangements have been carefully though out, so although Holly may be providing acoustic guitar or piano she is joined by others who may provide bass, flute, mandolin, drums, harp, glockenspiel etc. Consequently, the digipak details who plays what on which songs, and I had to smile when I realised that Steve Mann plays on all of them. For those who don’t know, Steve runs Backwater Records, and we have known each other for many years, but even in our emails he hadn’t told me he about his musical involvement nor did he hold Holly out for special treatment due to that, so huge kudos as far as I am concerned.
Back to the album, and I find it incredibly compelling as she weaves her story. I popped over to her website to do some research and was incredibly pleased to see that she provides details on the story behind every song. I am not going to repeat them here, but I urge readers to just go to her page on the label site, http://www.backwaterrecords.com/artists/holly-johnston, and read them for yourself. While you are on the site you can also stream the album, and I think you will be surprised if you haven’t come across this artist before this, as Holly is an amazing talent. I have found myself listening to this album on repeat, which is never a good thing when you have to get through as many reviews as I do, but playing this album was an absolute pleasure from the very first note each and every time I put it on, and there aren’t many times that happens. I get lost in her voice, her stories, the arrangements and confess that when playing this on headphones the rest of the world disappears.
I finally found the word I was looking for to describe this album, “perfect”. If ever there was an essential singer-songwriter folky album, then this is it.