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Boldly continuing her artistic reinvention Vanessa Carlton has allowed new influences to seep into her contemplative piano pop. “Blue Pool” holds the middleground between her introspective direction of the last two albums, with a more profound Tori Amos influence. “Blue Pool”, and its companion album, have stronger links with Carlton’s pre-“Be Not Nobody” demo recordings than of her other major label albums. The dreamier aspects of “Blue Pool” are reminiscent of the first two Florence + the Machine albums.

“Blue Pool” is the first batch of new material since “Rabbits On the Run”, and it is meant as a precursor to a new album called “Liberman”. The EP largely follows the direction of the preceding album but the material is stronger all around. Carlton feels more comfortable in her new direction, and the songs reflect that confidence. In the years post-"Harmonium" years anessa had been steadily shedding most of her overt pop trappings in favor of a contemporary return to what she did on her demos. Carlton’s current direction is focused around the same kind of minimalism, introspective atmosphere and absence of ear worm pop hooks.

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No longer restricted by commercial considerations Vanessa is now writing music that plays up to her strengths. The absence of any notable pop hooks allows her to further explore her low register vocals that always were superior to her often nasally high register. Having forgone hooks in favor for more resonating material the tracks on “Blue Pool” are more languid and pensive than anything on “Rabbits On the Run”. Some will probably decry the lack of instantly recognizable hooks and the inclusion of folk melodies instead of regular pop ones. In drawing from a variety of influences, and taking her music back to its roots, Carlton now sounds more confident than ever. The minimalist arrangements of her demo songs were lost as the production values of her early albums increased.

Vanessa underwent a similar artistic evolution as her contemporary Michelle Branch. Both started out as bright-eyed pop stars that appealed across demographics. Branch would cut two light pop albums before breaking with the industry that forced her into directions that weren’t her own. Branch eventually briefly reinvented herself as an alternative country singer. Carlton on her part reconnected with the Tori Amos influenced direction of her demos to shape the sound of her future. “Blue Pool” fuses Carlton’s past with a dreamlike direction wherein her future may very well lie.

By adopting light electronics and infusing her piano-pop with ethereal soundscapes Vanessa now simultaneously sounds vintage and contemporary. Some of the electronics wouldn’t feel out of place on a Casey K. or Polaris Rose effort. The dreamier, ethereal aspects recall the first two records of Florence + the Machine. The basis for the songs is still Vanessa’s voice and her stellar piano playing. No longer bound by big label pressure, and producing her own releases, Carlton has liberated herself from the pangs of commercialism. “Blue Pool” is the realization of a sound debuted one album prior. It is the completion of the transformation that “Rabbits On the Run” merely hinted at.

Like “Rabbits On the Run” before it the “Blue Pool” EP was recorded at Real World Studios in Wiltshire, England with Steve Osborne producing. As with any of Carlton’s self-produced efforts the production work is stellar. Even though her albums have lost some of the gloss of her A&M and The Inc. output Carlton’s voice, both literal and artistic, has never resounded clearer through out her work. On “Blue Pool” Vanessa is comfortable with the direction she has chosen for herself. While she might not have graced the world with another ‘A Thousand Miles’, or even a 'White Houses' she’s now closer to the direction of her demos than she ever was before.

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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.