Sharon Van Etten – Tramp (Jagjaguwar/Rhythmethod) CD REVIEW

THIS IS GOING to sound ridiculous, but I’ll say it anyway: I reckon Sharon Van Etten grew up listening to the Mamas and the Papas, as her full-bodied and beautifully expressive vocals have something of Mama Cass’s sweep and tonal range. And that’s a compliment.
Tramp, however, sounds nothing like the Mamas and the Papas’ slick folk-rock. Even when she cuts things back to a semi-acoustic folk style, there’s a rawness in the instrumentation that keeps it sounding real. Which isn’t to say that it’s not exquisitely crafted, because it is; just that a lot of the time, electric guitar is allowed to fly, unfettered, and it always sounds more or less live-in-studio.
It’s her third album, and is produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner, and it’s fair to say that there is a touch of the folk-rock craft that band brings to its own projects.
But Van Etten is really a kind of diva in folk-rock clothing, and it’s her voice that’s really captivating – so much so that I forgot to listen to what she was singing, because I was wrapped up in the dramatic power of her delivery. Although she never gets into the kind of epiglottal acrobatics of a Jeff Buckley, she does have a trill to her voice that reminds me of that transcendental singer, and an instinctive awareness of where to accent a note. Just like the music itself, her voice is both sweet and sour, and capable of navigating the unusual melodic twists and turns she constructs for it.
In short, Tramp is a breath of fresh air. GARY STEEL
Music = 4/5
Sound = 4/5

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