On her first album, singer and songwriter Olivia Barton exposes her pain—not to dwell on it, but to release it.

It is difficult to listen to a friend vent about a heartbreaking situation. While knowing that what they’re expressing is painful, releasing the hurt is a necessary part of healing. Boston-based artist Olivia Barton’s debut album, I Could Have Smiled At You More, is much like that: an exploration of experiencing pain and then letting it go. It’s also reflective of an artist who is continually changing. Using material and experiences from her past, she has carried herself into the future.

These songs have been percolating for some time. Barton has recorded them once before; she scrapped the project, saying that she realized the music wasn’t what she wanted it to be. “I’m not the same as I was when I wrote [the songs], so it was hard to go back into those places and those emotions. It’s all about the delivery. The music, the melody, those things will always be the same. What makes the songs mean something is the way I sing them,” she says. Two years later, Barton returned to the songs, this time with new producers behind her, and I Could Have Smiled At You More came to fruition.

The music reflects Barton’s introspective but extroverted nature; she carries herself with a confidence flecked with an understanding of hurt. The first track, “If You Say I’m Special,” swells in the middle with a tapping drum beat layered under a crescendo of guitar and Barton’s soaring voice. It diminishes just as quickly, landing on a breathy plea: “I want you to let me go, even though / I’ll believe you if you say I’m special.” The song’s momentum propels it to an ending, but lingers long after it’s over.

Mentions of intimate moments highlight her vulnerability, like the ending of “Puppeteer,” which trails off with “I sit in the hallway / With my roommates / Cry and slur / ‘I only wanted to make him better.’” Emotionally charged scenes fill these songs. The album is revealing, but Barton doesn’t dwell on it. “I don’t think of an audience hearing the songs, or being relatable. I just write what I feel and I think not thinking about who will hear it lets me be really honest.” Barton cracks her heart on this album with abandon, ripping her life open at the seams for everyone to see.

Plucking guitars and echoing vocals lighten the album; it’s certainly about difficult moments, but it doesn’t feel hopeless. “James Taylor,” the album’s fifth track, explores the willingness to accept your shortcomings and apologize for them: “I could’ve been more patient / I could have been more gentle / And I’m sorry for the times I assumed you were my job.” Barton isn’t looking for pity or commiseration; the album is a diary of the healing process, a transcription of learned-from feelings.

More than anything else, I Could Have Smiled At You More is raw and honest without sinking into depressing. Barton has not created an excuse to wallow in sadness, but rather, to release it. Like a light with a dimmer switch, this album lets the listener live with the sound in comfortable shadows. Barton has crafted a combination of darkness and light that is heartbreaking, but honest and genuine at its core.

You can catch Olivia Barton’s album release show at The Lilypad in Cambridge on Thursday, June 6th.

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