The music of Sarah Jaffe will remind some listeners of that of Cat Power or PJ Harvey, although at 24, the singer-songwriter from Denton, Texas, is a generation younger. She obviously crosses demographic boundaries, having toured with Norah Jones, Midlake and, now, Lou Barlow.
The shambling elegance of her canny full-length debut album displays a maturity beyond her years. Alternately sweet, smoky and a little tart, her intimate voice recalls at the same time 1970s folk-rockers and 1930s dustbowl balladeers. But she also allows a contemporary punky attitude to imbue settings that occasionally flirt with being weathered and old-timey.
Her tender, heartbroken tunes cut to the bone. For instance, "Better Than Nothing" opens with this insight: "How can someone who wants to be loved / hate it when they're loved at all / does guilt really feel that bad?"
She brings a faux-naïve charm to "Luv," which is brightened by chiming bells, which also are well employed as framing devices for the melody on the admonitory "Vulnerable." And she works up some coiled-snake emotions among the chamber-folk textures of "Clementine" and "Perfect Plan," which swells movingly with piano and tympani.
The rugged, weathered lo-fi arrangement of guitar and shallow drums on "Watch Me Fall Apart" sounds sad and lonely, until Jaffe's vocals move into a higher register at the song's conclusion, her building emotions driving the intensity of her performance. Sarah Jaffe is a talent to watch.