Perhaps best known for her work with alt-country artist Will Oldham (aka Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy), singer and songwriter Olsen steps even further out into the spotlight on her debut solo album, Half Way Home, a record the sound of which the artist brings to the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton on Tuesday.
Like Oldham, who checks into Western Mass himself with a stop at the Calvin on October 12, Olsen is a musician who defies easy stereotyping. Does she sing country? Is she indie enough? What about her more rocking moments? How is a listener supposed to feel when a single song can break a heart and force a smile at the same time? The answer of course, to the last question anyway, is pretty damn wonderful.
Though many tracks on Half Way Home feature just slowly picked acoustic guitar accompanying the often otherworldly vocals, “The Waiting” includes drums and stabs of electric guitar, which provide subtle backing to Olsen’s double-tracked voice.
The best vocal comparison might be to Roy Orbison, who also shared the ability to warble single words and notes into some different other form altogether. Plus, with subject matter so heartbreaking, every tune is a harrowing listen.
“I was a child about to lose my child-like mind,” Olsen sings on “Lonely Universe.”
Elsewhere on “The Sky Opened Up,” even seemingly optimistic lines about daring to be true to what you believe are answered by the refrain, “There's always somebody to lose.”
And on “Tiniest Seed,” the singer opines, “I wish you were here with me / But you’re too far away / Standing beside me now / With nothing to say.”
Watch the official video for “Tiniest Seed” by Angel Olsen here:
Fortunately, for everyone, there’s constant beauty beneath all the sadness. Instead of crying along to the heartache portrayed in the lyrics, the urge is rather to track Olsen down and give the singer a hug, telling her everything will be okay. Yet, in actuality, such an act may be for naught. If the young songstress keeps making records this gorgeous, she’ll be just fine on her own.
Angel Olsen with opening act Pillars and Tongues, October 1, 7 p.m., $10-13, Iron Horse Music Hall, 20 Center St., Northampton, (413) 586-8686, www.iheg.com/iron_horse_main.asp.
For more information on Angel Olsen or to see future tour dates please visit www.angelolsen.com/.
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