As quite a few actors can attest, when it comes to launching a music career, existing fame only goes so far. Along with acting in movies such as The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Jena Malone has been playing in bands for the better part of a decade with Jena Malone & Her Bloodstains and the Shoe, so her desire to make music isn't a spur-of-the-moment vanity project. That commitment is evident on I'm Okay, a collection of delicate, indie singer/songwriter reflections that evoke Cat Power, She & Him, Regina Spektor, and Julie Doiron. While Malone's intimate songwriting and whispery, girlish vocals on songs like "His Gorgeousness" fit a certain archetype, I'm Okay is most striking not for its originality, but for how much she's willing to bare. Despite naming her band after a contraption she fashioned out of a trunk that holds several electronic instruments, the album's instrumentation is often downright spare, with Malone's voice so exposed that it seems like her songs must fall apart before they reach the first chorus -- which is when they click. I'm Okay's best moments show that she has a flair for lighter-than-air melodies and detailed lyrics. On the title track, she spins crying in her car after a bad breakup into a seemingly rambling but ultimately triumphant story of survival; lines like "I thought I'd write this song instead 'cause it's cooler/Than calling you and texting you like I was a high-schooler" are equal parts simple and subtle. Malone takes this approach in a slightly more accessible direction on "Paper Cup" and "Dead Rabbit Hopes," which, despite its name, vies for the title of the album's poppiest moment with the sweetly twangy "Broken Hearted Love Song." The Shoe take some missteps on I'm Okay -- "His Shirt Grew" is dark, dramatic, and too cryptic for its own good, while "Indian Giver"'s sparkly keyboards and pointed lyrics don't quite reclaim or overcome its offensive title -- but it's still a promising debut, and one that would be worth paying attention to even if Malone weren't already famous.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares