Odetta Hartman holds her bricolage of folk, electronic beats, and field recordings together with whimsy | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Odetta Hartman holds her bricolage of folk, electronic beats, and field recordings together with whimsy

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In our posteverything world it’s hard to envision the current model of a New York-style artistic vagabond—a creative who had a bohemian childhood and found ways to connect the detritus of the past with a forward-looking present. Singer Odetta Hartman offers one such version on her recently released second album, Old Rockhounds Never Die (Northern Spy), a ragged amalgam of folk, singer-songwriter confessionals, electronic beats, jazz phrasing, and more. On “Cowboy Song” she inhabits the hobo lifestyle, humorously singing about a cast of characters she’s met riding the rails (“I met a monk / His name was Mark / It had been three months since he last talked”) over a charming ramshackle groove layered with banjo, fiddle, and sudden low-end bass tones. The title track pushes into ridiculous low-fi terrain, with Hartman’s brittle strumming just as washed out as her post-Billie Holiday warble. But on the gorgeous “Widow’s Peak” she disabuses any notion that she can only do cute, with a breathy but firm vocal turn on a crushing breakup ballad that clops along over sparse beats, banjo arpeggios, and bittersweet string swells. Produced by DJ and radio producer Jack Inslee, the album is littered with field recordings, often as interstitial passages between tunes, but as homemade as the record sounds, there’s a clear logic to how it all fits together. Hartman still seems a little green at times—too pleased with her own cleverness and a bit too reliant on smeared vocal phrasing—but there’s way more in her music that keeps calling me back rather than pushing me away.   v

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