A series in Sunday Calendar about what Times writers and contributors are listening to right now...
“Half Way Home”
A few Fridays ago at the little Bootleg Theater in Silver Lake, a singer and songwriter named Angel Olsen performed to a crowded room of curious, rapt admirers. Standing before a microphone and holding an electric guitar, the St. Louis (via Chicago) singer offered work from her debut solo album, “Half Way Home,” a small, good thing that’s slowly (and after-the-fact) becoming one of my favorite records of last year. Offering perfectly crafted folk-rock songs suggesting at various times Sandy Denny, Joni Mitchell, Jeff Buckley and Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval, Olsen at the Bootleg offered convincing evidence of a charismatic singer and guitarist brimming with a range of skills.
Olsen is best known as a member of singer and actor Will Oldham’s (a.k.a. Bonnie "Prince" Billy) traveling band the Cairo Gang, where her presence has offered a stunning counterpoint to his oft-subdued tones. On “Half Way Home,” she waltzes through 11 gems that highlight a minimalist guitarist with a gentle touch and a voice whose range is as wide as it is controlled. She can sing blues, as she does on “Lonely Universe,” can toss off breathy near-yodels with a grace that more popular wannabes like Lana Del Rey couldn’t embody with a dozen professional vocal coaches working weekends.
For better and worse, “Half Way Home” feels handcrafted. Recorded simply and with minimal effects, Olsen’s compositions don’t pop the way they would had they been recorded in a better room with a more delicate sonic touch. The power of the compositions, though, is in how durable they are. One listen to “The Sky Opened Up” is enough confirmation. Featuring a timeless vocal melody that sticks on first listen, the song is the best of many. And, as evidenced by the Bootleg gig, it showcases an artist at the beginning of a what could be a remarkable career.
Below is a live performance of her song "The Sky Opened Up."
Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit