Sarah June

In Black Robes

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Sarah June's sophomore album thanks both Timothy the Renderer of Dark Hollow Records and Brian John Mitchell of Silber, who released In Black Robes -- and without being overly reductive, those two labels' general aesthetic covers the kind of softly melancholic, spooked-out music on display. But Sarah June has her own distinct spin on a sound that's at once traditional and a product of modern technology, as her use of both acoustic and electric guitar subtly signifies. Her soft, childlike voice immediately calls to mind the elegant extremes of Alison Shaw of Cranes, yet June is one to show immediate, conversational wit in her lyrics as well. Thus this line from her opening song, "And I took up smoking because I wanted to be a cowboy!," or her wry observation on "From My Window High" that the object of her affection's other love interest can't measure up because of the way "she shuffles her feet." As a result, she fits in nicely with contemporaries like Larkin Grimm and Joanna Newsom without sounding like either -- all three use "traditional" sounds to convey thoughts and ideas that are of a current time rather than a never-never land. June delivers a specific nod to the past with an interpretation of Abner Spector's "Sally Go Round the Roses," while avoiding simply making it sound like an old classic rebuffed. Meanwhile, the liberal use of echo and room ambience throughout In Black Robes gives the album a live, you-are-there quality, not to mention suggesting of the work of any number of classic performers or those inspired by them -- you could point to Jeffrey Lee Pierce just as easily as to Johnny Cash, while the fingersnaps on "The Reaper" could be both Julie London and Julee Cruise. (That feeling grows even further when she shifts to a full band arrangement for "Brand of Bitterness," as wittily dark a mid-20th century jazz vocal number as one could want in the new millennium.)

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