Album review: Sharon Van Etten's 'epic'

Friday, September 3, 2010



Kindred spirits: Beth Orton, Cat Power, Scout Niblett

Show: With Marissa Nadler on Wednesday at DC9. Show starts at 9 p.m. 202-483-5000.$10 in advance; $12 at the door.

Sharon Van Etten is such an engaging lyricist that even if it's just her and a guitar, the results are plenty alluring. She proved that on her 2009 debut, "Because I Was in Love," and the song "A Crime" -- the strummy, acoustic lament about love gone wrong that opens her follow-up album, "epic" -- seems like the first step in establishing her as one of the best confessional singer-songwriters around.

The rest of the album, however, finds the Brooklyn-via-Tennessee upstart backed by a full band, and her songs turn into dynamic dirges that often live up to the album's name. If anything, the mood is even more melancholy, as a weeping lap steel guitar takes center stage on "Save Yourself" and plodding drums and multipart harmonies slowly lead "Love More" to its gorgeous conclusion.

Those harmonies, which appear throughout the album, only stand to make Van Etten's voice even more crystal clear, which befits her lyrics. She sings relatable, straightforward songs about sad things, best summarized by the line "I wish I could make you right" on "Don't Do It," one of the many slow-burners that manage to be devastating and uplifting at the same time. Van Etten is a pleasure on her own, but in the company of others she's a true star.

-- David Malitz

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