Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Eva Holbrook: The Very Last Dream

Eva Holbrook
The Very Last Dream
In Toon

It's a tough world for teen pop singers, those most vulnerable inhabitants of the "long plastic hallway," as Hunter S. Thompson reputedly characterized the music business. Especially for the girls. To garner sufficient attention for themselves, they have to fight with their record labels over their weight, or stagger around in a black bikini with a hangover at the VMA awards, or bring their own hairstylists to the rehab clinic. Without engaging in such outré behavior, how can a young chanteuse hope to distinguish herself?

Here's a thought: She can learn to play an instrument, and get by on talent.

Consider young Eva Holbrook. No, you won't find her name in the gossip columns or the police blotter. You will find it attached to her new solo disc, The Very Last Dream — one of the most refreshing albums of the year. It's the rare 18-year-old who has her own idiosyncratic vocal and playing style and an album's worth of strong original material and conspicuous talent and a seafoam-green Schwab electric mandolin. But that's Eva.

Actually, Eva was 17 when she wrote this stuff, but it shows in only one respect: the lyrics are teen poetry. Even so, it's teen poetry that's far too thoughtful for the bubblegum crowd. If she sticks with it, she'll come into her own as a mature songwriter in a few more years. Eva's breathy, winsome singing voice is so pleasant that it easily makes up for the occasional clunky turn of phrase, and you know she'll be able to carry off more nuanced material in the future.

Half the tracks are instrumentals, giving Eva the chance to display her considerable chops, both as a composer and a player. I hereby nominate her for the title Teen Queen of Crosspicking — that marvelous technique where the pick floats rapidly from string to string, churning out a cascade of arpeggiated notes while the left hand hardly moves. On either the Schwab or her acoustic Weber, fast, clean crosspicking is one of Eva's trademarks. Check out the title track to hear her crosspick the Schwab, or dig "Tuscany" to catch her putting the Weber through its paces. We also get to hear the Schwab chug away on "Glass Circus" and absolutely shred on "Born of Jets."

Some people might think that touring with one's sisters and dad in a pop band that plays church basements and coffeehouses would be a prescription for dreadful music. But instead this record is loaded with originality and accomplished musicianship. Eva practices her mandolins three to four hours a day and it shows. Now that Nickel Creek is all grown up and disbanding, it's time for someone else to pick up the grasspop banner. Might as well be this kid. Do her a favor and yourself an even greater favor, and pick up The Very Last Dream from CD Baby.

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