JULIANA HATFIELD

"Made in China"

Ye Olde Records

Almost 20 years after she introduced herself as a Blake Baby, Juliana Hatfield still appears to be -- as the opening song on her latest album puts it -- a "New Waif." With her girlish form and voice, Hatfield might seem best suited to strumming an acoustic guitar and warbling about raindrops and moonbeams. Yet she came of age in Boston's punk scene and plays the guitar more like Keith Richards than Joan Baez. Any time Hatfield can break free of expectations, she makes an album that's brash and noisy. "Made in China" is one of those times.

Recorded on the cheap for her own label, Hatfield's new CD is raw and contrary, with lots of lyrics that can't be quoted in a family newspaper.

The vocals are complete takes, minus studio fixes, and one song, "Oh," is entirely Hatfield, marking her recorded debut as a drummer. Yet there's plenty of songcraft, from multi-tracked harmonies (notably on "My Pet Lion'') to irresistible choruses. "I'm cheap and plastic / There's millions of us," Hatfield snaps in "What Do I Care," a song that mocks both her own ambitions and the music industry that has written them off. In a sense, she's right: There are too many would-be pop stars for any listener to follow. But when Hatfield defies the mainstream and makes an album this sharp and loose, she proves that she's an exception among the millions -- one worth caring about.

-- Mark Jenkins

Appearing Saturday at Iota.