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SHARON VAN ETTEN came to Brooklyn via Jersey via Tennessee via Jersey. Along the way, she sang in choirs, rejected her school’s music program, worked at an all-ages venue, trained as a sommelier, and got a full time job at a record label. She also had some bad experiences in relationships.
OK, more than some.
Epic, Van Etten’s second album, lays a romantic melancholy lining over the gravel and dirt of heartbreak, without one honest thought or feeling spared. She sings of betrayal, obsession, egotism and all the other emotions we hate in others and recognize in ourselves. Yet, Van Etten’s grounded and clenched vocals convey the sense of hope – the notion that beauty can come out of the worst of circumstances. Epic is indeed that beauty.
The album was recorded at Miner Street Studios in Philadelphia with Brian McTear. Where Van Etten’s first record, Because I Was In Love, explored her thoughts on love through minimalism and sparseness, Epic embellishes her music to grandiose luminosity. Guitar and singing are joined by drums, piano, lap steel, and a trio of backing vocalists: Meg Baird (Espers), Cat Martino and Jessica Larrabee (She Keeps Bees). The result is a fully realized album that astounds as it elucidates, disturbs as it soothes. The final track, “Love More,” has already been covered live in a collaborative effort between Sharon fans Bon Iver and The National.
A few things need to be made clear about SVE’s music. She’s not the type of “female singer/songwriter” who champions women-centric perspectives and denies personal accountability. Nor is she a strident provocateur. Rather, Van Etten is a performer who fully embraces her femininity while confidently expressing it through intelligent and mature perspectives on relationships. Those turned off by the provincialism of other performers will be pleased that you can identify with Van Etten’s incisive and universal observations about love and loss.
Since her last album, Sharon Van Etten has sung on The Antlers’ Hospice and performed with them at Radio City Music Hall, sung improv on the Mike Reed Trio’s upcoming album, recorded backup vocals for Swedish popstar Anna Ternheim, appeared on the compilation with the recent issue of Esopus, collaborated with Megafaun (check YouTube!), will be on a soundtrack for the film The Builder along with Bon Iver and Phosphorescent, and has a seven-inch coming out this summer on Polyvinyl. After years of playing repeatedly around the New York scene, Van Etten is preparing for a series of tours that will take her through Europe and the United States. A full band will be realizing Epic live.