Jenny Owen Youngs

Batten the Hatches

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Jenny Owen Youngs looks like she might be another typical, long-haired hippie waif with guitar -- then she opens her mouth, and your jaw drops. Youngs' voice has that delicate, childlike quality that plagues many a folksinging female, but when she digs into a song, the dissonance between her sweet alto and the acidic images she uses to paint her bittersweet portraits of life and love is startling. "Porchrail" opens the album with a backing band that sounds like the Violent Femmes. It's a simple acoustic rocker, with a swing feel that conveys the nervous energy that floods the body when you see someone you really want and probably can't have. The jittery beat and Youngs' pleading vocal create a mood of panting desire held in check by shyness and insecurity. Meanwhile, "Fuck Was I" is a self-flagellating tale about being in thrall to a lover who can never do you any good, and yet the love abides. Her matter-of-fact vocal and the song's lilting beat make her use of the F word actually sound shocking, something that's increasingly hard to do in the 21st century. On "P.S.," Youngs plays the banjo in an arrangement with French horn, cello, bass clarinet, and foot stomps. The result sounds kinda like a Tom Waits song, dripping with irony and full of unexpected musical touches. Every song here uses the same basic formula -- dark thoughts set to uplifting music -- but it's a formula that works amazingly well. Youngs has an uncanny insight into the pains and insecurities that plague us all when we're in that vulnerable, confused position of wanting love and feeling unworthy, or wanting out of a relationship and being unable to cut loose from the obsession that makes the pain hurt so good. She also has an original voice and an ability to find light even in the darkest situations, making this a very polished and cohesive first album.

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