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Kelly Lynn Barber is an up-and-coming singer-songwriter from Bridgewater, New Jersey. “Breaking Barriers” is the follow-up to Barber’s 2014 debut EP “Cold Reality”, that was custodian to the internet hit single ‘My Own Contradiction’. “Breaking Barriers” is a loosely conceptual release about overcoming adversity, personal limitations and - problems by finding strength in one’s own self. Even if the music is somewhat indistinct it are Kelly’s vocals and lyrics that form the main attraction.

Barber plays a brand of alternative pop, a convergence of alternative rock with elements of indie rock and pop punk. “Breaking Barriers” is indebted equally to artists as Michelle Branch, Kelly Clarkson but also early Coldplay and in lesser degree Seattle grunge. Kelly Lynn leans more towards a readily pop oriented direction in comparison to fellow New Jersey indie singer Karousel. Overall Barber’s music is closer to Branch’s independent debut “Broken Bracelet” than any of her later more poppier material. As a general rule Barber is at her best at her most straight up rocking. Towards the end of the EP Kelly Lynn allows her soul to truly shine through in the final song.

“Breaking Barriers” offers up a good cross-section of Barber’s various influences while retaining its pop polish. The EP opens with ‘Done with You’, the lead single about liberating oneself from toxic social elements, where Barber combines the lush production work of “Brand New Eyes” Paramore with Michelle Branch song craft. 'Eventually’ is the catchiest and most immediately accessible of the bunch. ‘Tearing Me Apart’ opens with a Nirvana-like riff. ‘What I Had Planned’ sounds like an early Coldplay song. The more rockier numbers tend to have a light grunge undercurrent. The songwriting on “Breaking Barriers” is rather subdued for the most part, and sidesteps big choruses and earworm hooks when it can. The concluding ballad even pulls slightly in a Lene Marlin direction, which is a direction that begs further exploring.

Kelly Lynn has an incredibly fragile, breakable voice that makes her life-affirming, self-empowering lyrics all the more resonating. Barber shortsells herself somewhat by remaining within a mid-to-low register for the entirety of the EP. Her delivery is one of her strongest suits, as it is both honest and emotive. It probably wouldn’t hurt if she’d put some power behind her vocals. Kelly Lynn is at her best vocally towards the end of ‘Eventually’ and during ‘Discord’. The quieter songs, notably tracks as ‘The Last Time’ and ‘Discord’, help sell Kelly Lynn’s vocal abilities. ‘Discord’ is the requisite ballad, and its minimalist composition allows Barber to show what she’s truly capable of. For this reason alone ‘Discord’ is a definite highlight of “Breaking Barriers”.

“Breaking Barriers” was recorded at Fresh Produce Studios with Jake Detwiler producing. As is the expected norm in pop the production is airy, bass-heavy and incredibly smooth. Rather strangely it puts more emphasis on the instrumentation than on Barber’s vocals, the very thing that is supposed to sell the record. Despite the odd choice in production, Kelly Lynn is able to hold her own. In February 2015 Kelly Lynn Barber announced that she was changing her artist name to reflect a change in musical direction. She reintroduced herself as Kelly Sirko, adopting her mother’s maiden name.


In the early 2000s Vanessa Carlton was considered one of the most promising young female songwriters along with Michelle Branch, Alanis Morissette and Nelly Furtado. Born in Milford, Pennsylvania Vanessa Carlton graduated from the American School Of Ballet, but pursued her interest in music instead. She demoed, and was signed to A&M Records in 2001, and started work on her debut album for the next two years. Vanessa Carlton then wrote and recorded a demo album called “Rinse” with Jimmy Iovine which remained unreleased, but attracted the attention of label president Ron Fair. Fair mentored the young Carlton and helped produce/write and arrange what would become her debut album “Be Not Nobody”.

Vanessa Carlton wrote and produced a demo recording somewhere in 2000 with producer Peter Zizzo. The two had made their acquaintance at a local singer-songwriting circle. Sources vary on the contents of the demo but they seem to agree that it was released on an actual old fashioned cassette tape. The recordings that Carlton cut with Zizzo at Big Baby Recording Studios in New York went untitled and later became known simply as the "Vanessa Carlton" demo. Under Zizzo's tutelage Vanessa was able to improve her blooming songwriting skills.

Her self-titled demo, while crude, led to a multi-album/development contract with Interscope/Geffen/A&M chairman Jimmy Iovine, who set to produce her debut "Rinse". Information on "Rinse" is scarce, but it seems only logical that it would be recorded at The Record Plant in San Francisco given Iovine's long history, first as an engineer and later as a producer, with the facility. The Iovine produced "Rinse" would be shelved, but was strong enough to attract attention higher up the label's food chain, specifically that of A&M label president Ron Fair, who took the young Vanessa Carlton under his wing and started to re-arrange the "Rinse" material.

Carlton’s debut record is a collection of new songs written in collaboration with producer Ron Fair and reworkings of a handful of the most promising songs from her independently financed, but never widely released, “Rinse” demo session. “Be Not Nobody” is a soulful pop album in the true meaning of the word. Heavy on orchestrations, percussion and big vocal hooks it is poppy, uplifting and soulful in equal measure. Lushly produced and full of instantly recognizable arrangements “Be Not Nobody” is Carlton’s most enduring and popular record even though the sound is hardly her own. It was a farcy from her Tori Amos inspired demo work.

Opening track 'Ordinary Day' is a reworking of an earlier demo track. Backed by a string section and some light percussion the song deals with unexpectedness and magic of reprocicated love. The song is about the unexpected and intoxicating effect of infatuation and young love. ‘Unsung’ is uptempo, exciting and talks about that “us versus them” mentality that is legion among adolescents, while the main narrative of the song is about unrequited love. ‘A Thousand Miles’” is mostly about longing for and the reassuring embrace of a loved one. ‘Pretty Baby’ is the big love song of the record, and is the most soul-oriented cut of the record. The string section for ‘Pretty Baby’ was re-arranged for newer versions of the album, such as the UK tour edition.

‘Rinse’, the title track of her unreleased demo, partly foreshadows the direction Carlton would embark on. On this record that direction is only hinted at as steady percussion, a string section and some electric guitar enliven the track. The Rolling Stones cover ‘Paint It Black’ is somewhat of a puzzling choice, but it is performed true to form. Why exactly it was included is somewhat of an enigma as it sounds nothing like Carlton’s original material. ‘Wanted’ is the most stripped down track of the record, with Vanessa accompanying herself with only her piano. Like ‘Rinse’ before it hints on the minimalist and introspective direction that Carlton would embark on later in her career. ‘Twilight’ concludes the album on an introspective note being the opposite of upbeat opener ‘Ordinary Day’.

Five songs of the unreleased “Rinse” demo were reworked and re-recorded for the “Be Not Nobody” session. ‘Ordinary Day’ was originally called ‘Divide and Conquered’ and later ‘Ordinary Days’ on both demos. Discerning fans will notice that the lyrics have omitted the “divide and conquer” line that made the song controversial in its earlier form. The hit single ‘A Thousand Miles’, the song that won Carlton no less than three Grammy nominations, was a reworking of her demo song ‘Interlude’. The demo version of the song had a different arrangement, a far more subdued vocal line and uneffective overall structure. Ron Fair re-arranged the song for the album changing the vocal line, adding a string section and generally giving the song a better flow that built towards a climax. Carlton rewrote the lyrics to fit the improved song structure. It turns out that Ron Fair’s influence on Carlton’s material was beneficial for the most part. The only song to be truly revamped was the solemn ‘Pretty Baby’ that was a lovely little ballad in its demo form, but was turned into a lush R&B ballad by Fair. Of her original songs only ‘Sway’, ‘Paradise’ and ‘Twilight’ retained the most semblance to their original incarnations.

“Be Not Nobody” was recorded and assembled at some of the best studios that its major label could afford. Tracking was done at IGA Studios, Henson Recording Studios and Royaltone Studios while Eddy Schreyer mastered the album at Oasis Mastering. Drew Fitzgerald was responsible for the cover photography and art direction. Carlton’s debut was released in April 2002 and debuted at number five on the Billboard 200 albums chart with 102,000 units sold. It went on to sell more than two million copies worldwide. Vanessa Carlton’s future as a young singer-songwriter looked bright even after the initial setback with her demo album.


The question now was whether she could cement that initial promise with her sophomore record. Much like her singer-songwriter contemporary Michelle Branch, Vanessa Carlton would refuse to do concessions to her music and image even if it meant losing major label support in the process.