Sharon Van Etten is my big discovery of the year so far. She is an American singer-songwriter from New York and “Tramp” is her third album. She has been around for a while and one of her songs was even covered by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and Aaron Dessner of The National.
I first heard her about a month ago on Tom Ravenscroft’s Radio 6 show (recommended listening for interesting new music). It was one of those occasions where I heard an artist and a song for the first time and thought, “wow”. The hairs stood-up on the back of my neck. That doesn’t happen all that often for me, so I guessed there was something special here. The song I heard was “Give Up”, the second track on the album. The next day I bought a copy of the album.
I raved about Van Etten’s music to my daughter and tried to describe what it was like In the end I couldn’t really describe it and just e-mailed her a You Tube clip. It doesn’t really fit into a category. At times you can hear echos of some of the best female singer-songwriters in the music: I can definitely hear some KD Lang in there somewhere — maybe in the harmonies- yet it doesn’t sound like KD Lang. I suppose it is kind of indie folk rock, and has leanings towards Americana, but categorisation doesn’t really do justice to Van Etten’s originality or talent. US website NPR (National Public Radio) says “Her songs are heartfelt without being overly earnest; her poetry is plainspoken but not overt, and her elegant voice is wrapped in enough rasp and sorrow to keep from sounding too pure or confident.”That sounds about right.
The music is intimate, heartfelt and emotional — and about relationships of course! The words, the tunes and the performance are all there, which is what makes a satisfying album. Take one of those things away and a record is usually diminished. The album is performed by a guitar-based band that really fits the style and mood of the music, featuring Aaron Dessner among other guest musicians. At times the music is jangling and intense, while at other times the backing is a sparse accompaniment to Van Etten’s confessional lyrics. There are some great lyrics on this album — one of my favourite lines is “Let’s find something that will last. Like cigarette ash, the world is collapsing around me”. (“Ask”). I think we can all sympathise with that message.
However, I suspect Van Etten will really come-over live and I really hope she tours in the UK soon.
Go out and listen to “Tramp” or any of Sharon’s songs now!
Review by John Bentley