Claire Holley | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Claire Holley 

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Growing up in Mississippi, Claire Holley's tastes ran toward singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Tracy Chapman. While attending college at Wheaton in the early 90s, she began to perform her own songs on the Chicago folk circuit, debuting on open-mike night at No Exit. She returned to the south to launch a recording career, releasing her first two discs, Night Air (1997) and Sanctuary (1999), herself. Last year she signed with Yep Roc, out of Chapel Hill, and the resulting CD, Claire Holley, propelled her to national recognition. Here Holley's clear soprano floats atop sparkling melodies that descend unexpectedly into minor-chord brooding; she has a touch of Dolly Parton's fallen-angel coyness. But her phrasing and intonation are more urbane, and she summons deep emotion without emoting. On "Oh My" her country mewl deepens as childhood memories give way to darker meditations. "The Lamppost" observes a congregation of winos shivering and huddling in a vacant churchyard with understated irony ("Bums like to stare at you and ask you your name / They toast to the sign that says Jesus is the way"). In "Billy and Me" a country gal hits the road with a seductive delinquent ("He could take or leave most anything, even me"). Holley murmurs the tale, and the catch in her voice alone is enough to prophesy the tragic end. "Sleep, Sleep," set to a gentle but propulsive 3/4 melody again darkened by a minor-key turn, could be either a love song or a lullaby ("You're so beautiful when you're gone, when you sleep," Holley sings). Her final soprano ascent on this song, part prayer, part wail, is chilling. Thursday, October 10, 9 PM, FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn; 708-788-2118.

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