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‘Tramp’ trumps and leaves you wanting more

February 16th, 2012

In a day and age where the path of women singer-songwriters is being blazed by the likes of Ingrid Michaelson and Regina Spektor, it’s easy to forget the artists that have been influenced by their predecessors of the quickly staling genre.

Sharon Van Etten does not fall into the pit of irrelevancy like so many before her, but rather has branched off from the Michaelsons and Spektors and stumbled upon true originality, something that the music industry seems to have lacked of late.

Van Etten broke onto the music scene with her acclaimed second release, “Epic,” in 2010. Embracing the modern folk sound with touches of ambient guitars and pedal steel, Van Etten caught the attention of many as a new fresh sound and found success.

Many first heard of Van Etten through a release by Justin Vernon, of Alternative Album of the Year Grammy winners Bon Iver. The band did  a cover of her song “Love More,” which was quite popular.

Van Etten had some major help in putting together “Tramp.” Recorded in critically acclaimed Cincinnati group The National’s Aaron Dessner’s garage recording studio, “Tramp” is a more maturely developed album than “Epic.”

Dessner coincidentally has also worked with Bon Iver, most notably on the song “Big Red Machine.”

Under Dessner’s guidance, “Tramp’s” tracks have a more natural flow this time around, climaxing in the middle with the emotional building of “All I Can.” The album builds to this point, and then slowly comes down to the final track, “Joke or a Lie.” Despite Dessner’s guidance, Van Etten does not stray far from her own original sound and charm.

What makes this album a success is, at times, it departs from the standard singer-songwriter ballads, the “refrain to chorus to refrain to chorus” formula for songs. What Van Etten succeeds at doing is disregarding this standard for parts of the album.

The ambient strings that call to mind fellow folk artist Andrew Bird or even Bon Iver are present on many of her songs, most notably “Joke or a Lie.”

Van Etten does not fully escape these conventions of the singer-songwriter, though. The album is a little long at 12 tracks and 46:23 in length, and seems drawn out at times.

In the falling down from “All I Can” to the end, the album drags on until the final two songs. The simple harmonies used in “I’m Wrong” bring the listener back to attention.

Van Etten accomplishes much here, but it is by no means a masterpiece. What’s exciting about “Tramp,” though, is she shows amazing signs of promise.

Her lyrics and threaded story are repetitive at times about leaving bad relationships in the dust, yet at the same time she uses poetry that isn’t too abstract but isn’t entirely jaded.

With songs like “Love More” and “All I Can,” Van Etten’s potential is not in question. “Tramp” gives us hope for what else is to come from this emerging artist.