Music » Rhythm & Views

Kaia Chesney: Circa 1952 (Self-Released)

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Folk-rock singer-songwriters in Tucson have always been a dime a dozen, God bless 'em. It's encouraging, of course, to know that so many bedroom musicians want to share their talents and innermost thoughts with the rest of us—and sometimes, they rise above the pack, as does this promising 23-year-old with the gorgeous honeyed alto.

Chesney's album also arrives well-equipped with a bunch of songs for which the age-old pop-song structure works to their advantage, rather than simply being the default mode. Although she has been compared to Feist, Laura Veirs and Dolores O'Riordan, Chesney's voice recalls a sweeter Chrissie Hynde. She and engineer J. Fen Ikner, who played many of the instruments, create arrangements that hint at the restrained modern twang and darker underbelly of the Cowboy Junkies.

She and Ikner make the most of her songs, turning "Without You" into a jangly rocker, and weaving vibes into "Thirsty" to give it a retro-cocktail lounge feel. There's a bittersweet melancholy on "Matthew," and the title track is almost a swinging lullaby.

The most beautiful song on the record is "Only One," which boasts a hauntingly gorgeous melody and a dramatic booming sound mix to complement its expansive pastoral mood. It sounds like Joan Baez fronting Fleet Foxes. And the lyrics are moving in their frank plainness: "I have seen what it is to love / and when it's gone, how it hurts."

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