The cover of Shelby Figueroa’s newest EP, Highwire, depicts a hot-air balloon careening into the sun-dappled vaults of heaven. It can’t help but bring to mind the gimmick behind Pixar’s Up. The vista is also symbolic of Figueroa’s songwriting; before arriving at its final destination, the balloon must traverse over the sea and through stormy weather. In the self-affirming opening track, “Into a Storm,” Figueroa conjures an ancient wisdom, reminding herself to stay grounded, both literally and figuratively: “I was told to build my house on a rock / Solid, firm foundation,” she sings during the song’s first verse. In the chorus it’s revealed that Figueroa’s house-on-a-rock is not only designed to protect her from natural calamity, but also serves as emotional mooring, an unconscious nod to Paul Simon’s “I Am a Rock”: “Now I see the clouds are rolling in / Bring the threat of rain / Now I hear your voice, roaring thunder / Calling my name.” As well-worn as this metaphor might be, the concept of inoculating one’s heart against inevitable suffering is timeless and unfortunately relatable. Figueroa’s vulnerable lyrics take on an added resonance pitted against her stark instrumentation: Many of the songs on Highwire merely feature piano and Figueroa’s spellbinding voice, and that’s really all she needs. While it might not break a lot of new ground lyrically, Highwire establishes Figuroa as a focused and undeniably gifted singer and songwriter. Not unlike her imagined home in “Into a Storm,” it’s a talent that’s steadfast and unassailable. 

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