Eclectic enough to cover both Tom Waits ("Heart of a Saturday Night") and Paul Westerberg (the touching "Skyway" has never sounded more lovely) without feeling forced, Mary Karlzen keeps both feet firmly in the folk-rock Americana that has always defined her work. Her girlish voice shifts between Juliana Hatfield, Beth Orton and Jewel, finding the innocence and longing in personal songs that are almost always sung in the first person. She's a singer/songwriter in the tradition of John Hiatt and early Joni Mitchell, serious and smart with an unerring eye for detail in her lyrics. Wanderlust Diaries is bookended by stripped-down tunes where Karlzen is joined only by John Deaderick's spartan piano. But the disc is dominated by strummy band tracks played with finesse by, among others, E Street Band bassist Garry Talent and ex-Wilco drummer Ken Coomer. Karlzen's acoustic guitar focuses the sound, and producer/multi-instrumentalist Jansen Press adds just enough instruments and frills to underscore the singer's lyrics without ever overwhelming them. "Stupid or Something" is a terrific example of a song that takes flight with a folk-rock arrangement that leaps out of the speakers. Percussion and theatrical strings are added for drama on "Sixteen," a story-song that starts as a fond reminiscence of a summer but turns terribly dark in its final verse. It's a textbook example of what Karlzen does best as this album shifts from one highlight to the next on a journey through a scrapbook life, some of which might be based on personal experience. On her fourth release, all for different labels, Karlzen has delivered a gem that, in a perfect world, would generate a major Americana buzz.
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AllMusic Review by Hal Horowitz