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Monday, Dec. 13, 2010

Sharon Van Etten

Epic (Ba Da Bing Records)

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Diminutive Sharon Van Etten reaches for a big, expansive voice with Epic. Her sophomore effort comes on like the lilting soundtrack to a breakup phone call: Powerful, almost angrily strummed chords set the stage as full-on country-folk instrumentation hovers mournfully, and there’s more heart-on-sleeve, lonely-girl sentimentality than might seem digestible for a seven-track recording.

But Epic is far from overly precious. Besides the droning “DsharpG” and some cutesy “I flubbed” banter between songs, she skillfully pens and orchestrates a recognizable gamut of heartbreak and disappointment. Regret (“A Crime”), rancor (“Save Yourself”), resolve (“One Day”) and, maybe, reason yet to keep getting out of bed (“Love More”) are delivered capably in a Neko Case-like croon.

So often the step between a first and second record for a songwriter can be a lateral one. But after the naked tenderness and open-mic-night weepiness of Because I Was in Love, Van Etten has unleashed a dramatically more sweeping, lush and mature piece of work. By the time of the languid, masterful album closer, the listener is left with a feeling of having actually been somewhere with the singer. And for that, here’s hoping she gets that heart broken again before the next studio go-round.