Reviews:: Jenny Owen Youngs Batten the Hatches

Ok. Here’s the deal. Normally, when any girl drops f-bombs all over the place, I tend to lose interest to what they are saying, especially when it comes to singer/song writers. The appeal of female rawness wears thinner than the soles on cheap runners, and I tend to think of the artist as another version of Storm Large.

So when Jenny Owens Youngs started showing up on some blogs and they were talking about F&ck; Was I, I kind of ignored her efforts. Strangely enough, when I finally took the time to listen to the record, I was forced to eat my own words. Much like Annie Hardy or Tegan and Sara, Jenny is able to mix sweet with her sour. Instead of hearing stripped down guitar tracks with curses flowing like Coors Lite at a frat house, I was treated to rich arrangements and a diverse collection of songs.

Perhaps the best decision my Owen Youngs made was to associate herself with a talented group of friends. From the opening riff of Porchrail to the last notes of Keys Out Lights On, Jenny is supported by a variety of instruments and styles that never overstep the role of enhancing Jenny’s vocals. You can start name calling influences (Erin McKeown was the one that jumped out of my headphones), but I think she's working hard to define her own sound.

The stand up bass line of Porchrail sets the tone for the song, and adds the stability needed for Jenny’s voice to flawlessly wander around the melody. The muted strums of From Here brings will draw Tegan and Sara comparisons. Like the sisters' recent efforts, adding more to the mix makes this track much stronger. Harmonizing with Bess Rogers, adding electric guitar, a simple shaker and a subtle flute really helps this song pop and stand out from just another angry songstress at a coffee shop open mic night.

The gentle bowed notes of a cello really start F&ck; Was I nicely, and Jenny’s seamless transition into falsetto shows her vocal range, but the song for me just ends up being a well produced joke. It’s edgy. It’s shocking, but in the end, I can’t take it seriously (which is too bad because musically it’s a great).

Lighting Rod slows everything down at just the right point. The sparse arrangement showcases Jenny’s front woman power. A song like this could end up flat, but she and the band add just enough to keep it exciting, but never distract from her lyrics. It flows perfectly into one of my favorite songs – Voice on Tape. An obscure answering machine message starts the track, and it involves into a catchy riff.
“I’ve got your voice on tape. I’ve got your words in me. I don’t need anything else.”
One of her biggest strengths is her succinct style. Instead of using clever metaphors and intricate wordplay, Jenny delivers honest, straight forward lyrics that hit home.

Jenny is also comfortable in a more traditional folk environment. Bricks is a gentle finger picked song that uses the less is more philosophy. A lot of folk artists rely on a simple riff, a hushed voice. Over the course of a full record, it starts to blend into a samey mess, but when used effectively, it really works. The bands still adds some stabbing strings, but this folky interlude is the perfect change of pace for the record.

Although it’s not really indicative of the record, I’m going to link up the addictive (rim shot please) Drinking Song. It’s a crying in your beer number where Jenny over analyses every mistake she’s ever made. The thing I like about this track is that instead of being slow and dragged out, the song moves like a shot of whiskey down your throat on those sad nights where booze if your only confidant.

MP3:: Drinking Song


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