CD Review of Through These Walls by Hilary McRae
Recommended if you like
Carole King, Corinne Bailey Rae, Sonya Kitchell
Label
Hear Music
Hilary McRae:
Through These Walls

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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M
ost of her labelmates are what a program director might politely refer to as “heritage acts” – other Hear Music artists include Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and Carly Simon – but even though Hilary McRae wasn’t even born until well after all those artists were well past their respective commercial primes, she makes for a sensible addition to the roster, and it’s easy to, uh, hear why Hear chose her as its first “developing” artist: She evokes the classic singer/songwriters of the ‘70s with an ease and comfort that belies her 21 years. (The fact that she happens to look like a blonde, leggy Amazon undoubtedly didn’t hurt either.)

Of course, she doesn’t entirely escape her youth on Through These Walls, which isn’t really a bad thing; if her material isn’t blessed with the universality or emotional heft of her peers, neither does it often stray into the maudlin and/or excessively mellow territory stereotypically favored by performing songwriters. McRae counts Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire among her biggest influences, and that’s easy to pick out here, thanks in large part to the bright splashes of Charlie Calello-arranged horns that grace wide swaths of the album. The end result is an album that manages to season modern pop energy with time-honored tricks of the songwriting trade more effectively than most.

Hilary McRae

It’s the horns that really set McRae apart, however – not her songs, which tend toward the pedestrian. She refers to the dozen songs on Through These Walls as “raw,” but that’s a curious way to describe a set that relies so heavily on shopworn MOR clichés – and was mixed with the same artificially bright sheen you can hear on recent albums by pretty much any young pop artist (courtesy of Michael H. Brauer, who, one suspects, may not even be in the room for his own mixes anymore). The album is undeniably well-crafted, and it’ll fit in snugly among the other CDs on the Starbucks racks, but it sounds more like the work of a young Berklee grad than someone who has truly suffered for her art.

All of which is to be expected, really – and at the end of the day, it’s just pop music, and Hilary McRae makes it exceptionally well. She’s already got a way with a hook, and her affection for those aforementioned “heritage acts” can only bring her closer to the mark on subsequent efforts. In the meantime, tracks like “Every Day (When Will You Be Mine)” and “Waiting” should help her win friends and influence people in her target demographic. If it isn’t an earth-shattering debut, it’s certainly an auspicious one.

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