Album Review of Ibby: Cross Your Heart
Ibby‘s Cross Your Heart is an exceptional sophomore release from this engaging, young, local Massachusetts singer/songwriter. I reviewed her hometown CD release party back in June, and I’ve been looking forward to finding time to give her album a proper review ever since.
I hear elements of pop/rock bands like Train in Ibby’s songwriting, bits of Taylor Swift in her lyrics, and a performance style that I’d begrudgingly label folk if I was forced to; begrudgingly because it’s varied and dynamic enough I could envision some of her songs achieving mainstream notoriety generally beyond the reach of the folk music sphere, so such a label is unnecessarily and unfairly limiting. Ibby’s voice is dynamic yet personal, almost always cheerful, even when the song topics aren’t and yet somehow not at odds with the song’s message, and this gives her serious pieces even more gravity. From song to song, she employs such variance in her strumming styles and tempos that the 14-song disc moves along comfortably, providing a variety of listening experiences to more easily maintain listener interest.
For such a mellow-feeling album, Cross Your Heart has a lot of energy. Ibby rarely seems to pause; her songs have many lyrics, and she flows from one to the next, often using conjunctions, as if each song is just one long, run-on sentence. Hemingway would be proud. As a result, though, at the end of one of Ibby’s shows, and a bit at the end of this album, the listener is left happily out-of-breath and wondering why, given the seemingly calm nature of the music. It’s a joyful exhaustion, and something that may become one of her trademarks. Indeed, a memorable musician needs a few unique calling cards, and Ibby has enough of those to foretell a long, fruitful career.
“Burnouts” kicks the album off showcasing Ibby’s voice, so wonderfully appropriate for this disc, before picking up the tempo and growing into a bit more of an energetic number in spots. As an introduction to Ibby’s sound, it’s quite representative, and sometimes it’s the song that ends up stuck in my head. Indeed, at times several of the songs on this disc pop into my head, but – as you will, too – I have a few recurring favorites.
“How Did I End Up Missing You” is one of my current favorites. And it showcases another of Ibby’s trademarks, an attention to interesting and precise lyrics. The uptempo cheerfulness of the music and the lyrics’ delivery belie the lyrics’ content. A favorite line, “Come home late/You were the wrong kind of busy/’Cause there’s lipstick on your collar/And I don’t wear any.” She delivers it convincingly, as if she’s maybe a decade older than she actually is, but also cheerfully, as if looking back and half-laughing at herself. I’m a sucker for cheerful delivery of not-so-happy lyrics, so this one hits a personal sweet spot.
“In the Sky” reminds me of Mark Wilkinson, both in song and strumming style. A particular song of his, in fact. And while I’m a little late to the Mark Wilkinson party, his legion of loyal fans will confirm that any comparison to him is an immense compliment. As you might guess, that makes “In the Sky” another of my personal favorites. Ibby’s vocals on this song are among her sweetest yet still exceptionally powerful. The intense guitar picking, breadth of emotion in the vocals, and the accompanying strings build the song’s intensity, as if a rubber band that keeps tightening without ever releasing before simply fading at the end. Impossible to ignore and delivered as if each lyric is significantly insightful.
“Breathin'” is another favorite. It starts cheerfully and builds exuberantly, with the whole song shining like one great big smile. You know, but not in a too cheesy way.
Other notable songs include “Lightning Don’t Strike Twice,” a catchy blend of melody and lyrics that stands out as a likely first single. And “88 Keys,” which rises and falls powerfully, more drums-and-rhythm-driven than most of Ibby’s tunes, with a heavy aura not often found on this CD, but at the same time catchy and memorable. “Not About Rain” is among the darkest tracks on the album, brilliantly constructed and musically rather discomforting.
The cheerfully-delivered “My Dear” is another significant earworm in Ibby’s repertoire; its hooky strumming pattern ends on a cheerful note, setting the song’s mood. “You Bettered Me,” meanwhile, adds foreboding strings and a slightly different vocal delivery to create a powerful mood that is simultaneously warm and heavy; ultimately, it’s a cool sound that’s worth hearing.
And the disc closes in the only suitable way for an Ibby album, full of hope and cheer. “We Didn’t Lose” is another favorite of mine, a musically uplifting song with lyrical nuggets like “fate loves the fearless.” It’s not necessarily the most cheerful song once you dig into it, but there’s an easy feeling and happy contentedness that will leave the listener smiling.
Upon multiple spins, Ibby’s Cross Your Heart reveals more and more musical and lyrical special moments, with the disc growing in my estimation from an already-pleased initial impression. There’s breadth and depth here that hints at a musician for whom this is just the beginning, one with the skills and instincts to continue to surprise and impress. This album still has plenty of mileage on it before I’m ready for her next one, but I’m also looking forward to hearing what else Ibby has in store for us.
I don’t see any upcoming events listed on Ibby’s Facebook page, but it’s worth keeping an eye on it and on her website. If you get a chance to see her perform live, it’s an inspiringly cheerful experience.