Jeff Hanson Jeff Hanson

[Kill Rock Stars; 2005]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: singer/songwriter, indie pop, folk pop
Others: Elliott Smith, Damien Rice, Ken Stringfellow

First things first: Jeff Hanson's voice. If you've listened to Jeff's first outing, Son, or you've read any piece of journalism heralding his music and songwriting abilities, you've probably heard or read about his, shall we say, idiosyncratic vocals. It is high, it is unusual, and, under the social construction that is gender, it is "feminine." From the first word out of his mouth, it's the one noticeable trait in each song. So, if you can't get over a male sounding like Vanessa Carlton or Chan Marshall, then there will be a problem digesting any Jeff Hanson offerings, including his latest self-titled effort.

Your first step, then, is to set aside your antiquated notion of what a voice should sound like. The melodies are too precious and fragile to throw away just because of a high-pitched male voice. The music is a great getaway from the pressures of the day, allowing total aural immersion. "Welcome Here" is a mirror of the ferocious side to Elliott Smith's catalogue. Two chords strummed on the guitar and a fiercely repetitive piano riff play vital roles in Hanson's storytelling lyrics. His words read like classic fiction without the filler of a preachy supporting cast and unidentifiable morals. The music uplifts the message instead of burying it in nonsense. Sounds wonderful, right? But it's just one song -- not in the case of the whole album. Each song grows stronger as the tracks float along, gathering steam for the closing lullaby "Something About." The ambiguous narrative conjures up a mystique and delicacy rare in most love songs. Don't listen to the words; feel the words.

The subtle nature of Jeff Hanson's latest recalls the age of Tin Pan Alley singer/songwriters breaking out on their own. The album has captured the nostalgia long since ditched for an easier path to stardom and money. The words mesmerize, the music moves, and the album has a central flow that causes track-skipping to be obsolete.

1. Losing a Year
2. Now We Know
3. Welcome Here
4. I Just Don't Believe
5. I Know Your Name
6. Someone Else
7. This Time It Will
8. Let You Out
9. Long Overdue
10. Something About

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