With many things in life, less is more. Music is no exception. The truth of this maxim is apparent on Leaving Kansas, the third album by singer-songwriter Holly Long. Blessed with a voice as warm and listenable as Annie Lennox and abounding songwriting chops, Long has all the tools to deliver the goods. Too often, though, her compositions are buried beneath heavy instrumental production and intrusive backing vocals. While Leaving Kansas reaches some soaring high points, they are overwhelmed by a deluge of studio effects, giving the album an unshakeable plastic veneer.
The songs on Leaving Kansas start simply, with Long singing over piano or guitar and making good use of her lovely voice. The album is at its best as these points, but the producers choose to heap extra instruments and intrusive vocals on most of the songs. There is a bombastic choir on “Sunday Redemption,” violins on “Brokedown” and electric guitars, cellos, and organs to fill in all the remaining spaces. Nearly every track on the album contains some showy addition that increases the decibel levels, but detracts from the overall effect of the song. Leaving Kansas is overstuffed with sound, distracting from Long’s lyrics and singing ability.
The most striking track on the album is “Stray Dog,” a bonus track at the end of the album. Here, instead of perfectly mixed background vocals and layered instrumental tracks, Long sings over a simple guitar line. Her voice is lovely, the lyrics are intriguing, and the guitar playing is unobtrusive and sure. The only ghost of production on this track is a persistent harmonica that sounds incongruous in the intimate context of the song. Like a mosquito buzzing in the listener’s ear, the harmonica noodling is a distracting reminder of what could have been had Leaving Kansas been rendered more simply.