If quitting her day job beforehand made¬†Shelby Earl’s first album, 2011’s “Burn the Boats,” an act of bravery, her latest is a startling display of vulnerability. “Swift Arrows” finds the Seattle singer and songwriter (who performs today and Saturday in conjunction with CMJ) baring her heart on songs that are introspective, sometimes lacerating and obviously deeply felt.
Produced by Damien Jurado and recorded live in a historic vaudeville theater, the album is starker and less varnished than its predecessor. Earl has a powerful, throaty voice, and she sings on “Swift Arrows” as though these 11 songs are a direct line to the deepest, most intimate parts of her soul. Maybe they are. She seeks to make sense of a convoluted relationship on “The Seer” over a rich bed of acoustic guitar, her voice building in intensity as electric guitars well up to take over the song. “This Is Me Now” is a sorry-not-sorry statement of self from someone who is determined to stand her ground this time, and Earl lets her voice ring out over a martial snare drum tattoo.
There are lighter moments on the album, too: “Sea of Glass” features buoyant piano and drums and a playful call-and-response that evokes a vintage girl-group sound, and Earl takes an arch tone on “The Artist,” a rueful love letter to a narcissist, accompanied by a sprinkling of piano and a hefty chorus of backing vocals. In the end, of course, Earl’s voice is the one that matters most here, and she sings on “Swift Arrows” with breathtaking assurance, even when it sounds like her heart is about to break.
Earl performs tonight, Oct. 17, at Riot Act Media’s CMJ happy hour, starting at 5 p.m.at Pete’s Candy Store, 708 Lorimer St., Brooklyn; and Saturday, Oct. 19, at Listen, Dammit’s day party, starting at noon at Skinny Dennis, 152 Metropolitan Ave., Brooklyn.
Swift Arrows mp3