On her MySpace page she names as influences women like Vashti Bunyan, Sybelle Baier, Anne Briggs, Shirley Collins, and Karen Dalton—all trailblazing folksingers from the 60s and 70s who remade traditional British and American songs in their own image. She also mentions new artists like Matteah Baim, Essie Jain, Jana Hunter, and Meg Baird, all of whom have done something similar in recent years—though they, like Van Etten, prefer writing their own songs to reimagining centuries-old repertoire.
All the songs on Van Etten's recent debut, Because I Was in Love (Language of Stone), are hers. The music is sparse, quiet, and acoustic, and consists of her voice, her guitar, and minimal backing tracks tactfully shaped by producer Greg Weeks, who also leads Espers and runs Language of Stone—restrained cymbal crashes, unobtrusive organ swells, multitracked backing vocals. Van Etten sings her lovely, sleepy melodies in a languid, fragile coo that’s well suited to the personal lyrics, which she develops from old journal entries she’s written. Most of them deal with relationships, and many of her lines sound addressed directly to a lover or an ex; in “Tornado” she sings, “I’m a tornado / You are the fences that will fall but still surround me.” She’s relatively new to music, but her beguilingly simple songs have an expertly crafted tunefulness that helps them worm their way into your memory.
Photo: Michael Palmieri
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