Holly McNarland is one of those rare female vocalists, whose
voice isn't breathy or cute, but packs a wallop that can literally affect your
body. Really. Listen to her new album, Home Is Where My Feet Are,
and while her whisper-to-a-scream voice may soothe on some songs, it can send shivers up your spine at the same time.
The Vancouver-based siren's voice is so intense yet vulnerable that it stirs emotions in listeners they didn't know they had. From the rockin' "Do You Get High" to the gorgeous "Beautiful Blue", Holly is a singing paradox, a super-charged pint-sized phenom both delicate and beautiful.
Much has happened since the young singer-songwriter with the astounding pipes busted out with a set of you-said-it-girl anthems on her 1997 Universal debut, Stuff, and 1995 independent EP, Sour Pie. She married, she mothered, she matured - in that order.
"I have changed," Holly says. "I had a baby. I grew up. It's been five years and a lot of those songs that were on Stuff were written a couple of years before they were out. I was 19 when I wrote 'Numb.' 'Elmo,' I was 21. So the music is going to change. I didn't want to put out the same album."
So she didn't.
From the gentle country-tinged "When You Come Down" to the stirring string-laden beauty of "I Cry" and optimistic groove-pop of "Voices", to her raw, crunchy track "Dallas", Home Is Where My Feet Are has indeed evolved from her past offerings. "My songwriting is even more introspective. If you want to know what goes on in my head, just listen to this album," she says.
After winning a Juno Award for Best New Solo Artist in 1998, Holly was at the peak of her career. Her debut album Stuff had gone Platinum and she was touring across Canada and the U.S., playing to audiences of thousands. Then she did the unthinkable - disappeared from the public eye to focus on starting a family. She and her husband moved from the corporate hub of Toronto back to the chilled setting of Vancouver to give birth to songs and a son.
Just before her son greeted the world, the songs started to flow. With her husband electing to stay home for a year, she had the luxury of disappearing to another room to demo on mini disk or on her answering machine. She had the perfect stay-at-home job. While some nosy folk inquired if she was going to have more children, implying she had a career to focus on, Holly believes, few would ask touring fathers the same question.
After spending some time songwriting in England, Holly went to Malibu to work with producer Mark Howard (The Tragically Hip, Emmylou Harris, The Neville Brothers), recording six songs for the album, including "Brush Into My Tears" with its sexy rock chorus.
Of the Malibu sessions, Holly says, "We were living and recording in this beautiful beach house. I wanted spontaneous music so the guys would learn the song the day we recorded it and jam it out for a couple of hours. Then we'd lay it down. It was awesome. It was so anti-studio.
Months after, Holly felt the need to record some more songs for the album. She worked with producer Malcolm Burn (Blue Rodeo, Shawn Colvin, Better Than Ezra) and recorded "Dallas". That last-minute bit of magic -- a sexy, suspicious number -- turned out to be one of the best tracks on the album, complete with guitar parts from Dave Genn.
To round out the album, Holly entered The Warehouse Studios in Vancouver with Warne Livesey (Matthew Good Band, Midnight Oil). He produced "Beautiful Blue", "Voices", "Watching Over You, "Do You Get High" and "Losing My Face".
"The big song, 'Beautiful Blue,' came a week before the last time we went into the studio," she says. "That was shortly after September 11. It's not about that, but the whole vibe, the whole doomsday thing, was pretty apparent, and I was just hanging out with my son. In the middle of all of this tragedy, I would wake up and have this perfect little angel by my side."
The concept of home inspired the album's closer, "More", a song she wrote out on the road, a song from which the album's title, Home Is Where My Feet Are, is taken. "It's all about being out on the road and missing home and having to make wherever you are home and trying to make something in that city give you comfort.
And now she'll be moving again - on the road and up the charts.