Kris Delmhorst, Shotgun Singer (Signature Sounds, 2008)

While they've made their fair share of good music, contemporary American folk singer/songwriters are not generally known for their sense of experimentation. As Boston resident Kris Delmhorst's recent album Shotgun Singer shows, though, there are some exceptions. Shotgun Singer is largely a homemade work, recorded in a rural cabin with Delmhorst doing most of the producing and playing a large number of instruments (acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards, bass, even the cello) herself. The solitude helped Delmhorst create a very distinctive sound, often a bit dark but quietly intense and very effective on the whole.

From the eerie opening song "Blue Adeline," Delmhorst creates an atmosphere where things are never quite what they seem or what you'd expect. Sometimes, in the background, the guitar or piano hits a series of single notes that aren't quite in rhythm. Other times, like on the penultimate song "Freediver," Demhorst holds onto notes for a little long, letting the pitch drop off in a ghostly manner. Even on the very upbeat "1000 Reasons," the vocal harmonies strike a somewhat dissonant chord in the chorus. But the mood works, and when Delmhorst asks "If not for love, what are your for?" or achieves a soulful, bluesy catharsis on songs like "Riverwide" and "Kiss It Away," the emotion creeps under your skin and lingers there.

Carefully conceived, well performed, and immaculately produced, Shotgun Singer is the kind of album where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. There's no particularly brilliant standout track that will force its way onto people's iPods, but every song is effective in a subtle way. I definitely recommend multiple attentive listens for this one, as it will grow on you.

Overall grade: A-

reviewed by Scott

A solo live performance of "Blue Adeline"

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