Julie Byrne has adventures to share. Born in Buffalo, she has roamed extensively in her three decades, living on both coasts, along at least two Great Lakes, and near the mouth of the Mississippi in the Deep South. She worked as a seasonal ranger in New York’s Central Park and has made keen observations about how North America’s landscape unfurls during tours across the continent. On Not Even Happiness, her stunning sophomore album from 2017, Byrne boils these experiences into eight songs that seem to open entire worlds of feeling and self-discovery—how the Southwest feels like a lifelong romance when you first see it, how traveling can invoke the most fulfilling loneliness, how sitting still for a spell can show you how resilient you are. In a voice that suggests it’s always offering a secret, Byrne sings over gorgeous fingerpicked guitar and faint synthesizer whorls, her words offering shape to an open musical terrain.
Byrne’s performances are an act of social sublimation, in which a venue of strangers suddenly becomes a room of friends, listening intently to a clutch of stories shared with natural candor and wit. Backed by a small band that sympathetically brightens the corners of her songs, Byrne sings with effortless grace. It’s as if she’s simply sharing the distilled wisdom of her life and times as they occur to her, stumbling into truths that even catch her off guard. Byrne is one of the country’s great young singer-songwriters, translating our national treasures into lessons about how to live and love a little more openly.