(Kill Rock Stars)
It's been years since Elliott Smith graced KRS. Now, a similarly haunting songwriter wrenches hearts the way only Smith could. Jeff Hanson hails from Minnesota and sounds like it: a lonely stroll across a snow-covered park at sunrise, the sound of a creaking merry-go-round in the distance. On Hanson's eponymous sophomore release, these images are summoned by his falsetto love songs. His elfin voice is shocking at first, but quickly becomes a comforting hug, less Devendra Banhart, more Jeremy Enigk. The emptiness of opener "Losing a Year" conveys disappointment with only a subtle strum of the guitar and the powerful gliding vox of its holder. When Hanson's ghostly howls give gravity to the piano midway through, tears begin to well. The super-Smithian waltz "Welcome Here" stands as the album apex, powerful and driving in its full orchestration and thick in its multiply tracked vocals, but the music would be hapless without Hanson's cathartic poetry: "I'm trying hard to stare into the sun again, feeling that it knows this time," he sings on "Let You Out." "Someone Else" pushes Hanson's falsetto a bit far, coming out like a Beatle-esque RenFair. As the harmonic "Long Overdue" eases into somber closer "Something About," the reality kicks in. Hanson isn't as prophetic as Smith was, but then neither is he a martyr. (Thursday, March 17, 10:15pm @ Beerland)
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