In rock music, female singer-songwriters are often never given a fighting chance. Whereas in pop music, your larger-than-life female artists dominate the industry, female solo acts seem neglected in rock. When one such artist finally breaks through the male-dominated ice, it is an impressive feat.
Singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten has made quite a name for herself since her 2009 debut,Because I Was In Love, and is coming to Paradise Rock Club on Thursday (with opener Shearwater) in support of her third LP, this month’s Tramp.
Unlike the sleepy acoustic guitar of countless singer-songwriters, Van Etten’s songs are complete efforts with electric guitar, keyboard, drums, and more. For Tramp, Van Etten recruited a who’s who list of hip Brooklynites; appearing are Beirut’s Zach Condon, The Walkmen’s drummer Matt Barrick, and Julianna Barwick. Rounding up the Brooklyn crew is The National’s Aaron Dessner who produced the album in his humble backyard studio in Ditmas Park. Also joining in the festivities is the excellent Baltimore-based singer/guitarist Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak.
The album kicks off with “Warsaw,” a quick number that delicately balances indie-rock sensibilities with Van Etten’s vulnerable voice. “Give Out” is more of a somber cut with introspective lyrics, such as “you’re the reason why I’ll move to the city or why I’ll need to leave.” “Leonard” shows off a vacillating side to Van Etten’s voice against the backdrop of a more cheerful sound. “In Line” is a hypnotically slow track with eerie harmonies and ever-so-slight, yet sinister, guitar licks. “All I Can” starts with mute acoustic guitar and piano before building up into a heavier tracked lined with horns. “Magic Chords” features an off-kilter marching drum and organ underscore as Van Etten’s tender cadence plays against Condon’s deep voice. The album’s strongest track, “Serpents,” elegantly combines delicate harmonies, poignant electric guitar, a driving drumbeat and hints of organ.
Sharon Van Etten does a nice job of crafting Tramp into a diverse album, filled with a wealth of instruments and a menagerie of walk-on musicians. Van Etten is able to distance herself from the far too many singer-songwriters that fashion one sound and stick to it throughout an entire LP. Given that Van Etten fused the acoustic and electric, the quiet and the raucous together, her show at Paradise Rock Club on Thursday should certainly be worthwhile.