Folk music has gone through a lot of changes through the years. 2015 is a long way from the origins, but a lot of the same rules still apply now. Storytelling plays a major part even in the nu folk era that we find ourselves in today. We’ve gone through the recent incarnation of the genre, with bands like Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers making their name on a kind of Americana as bland as it is inoffensive. There have been talents in the last cycle that were overlooked, and now at least one of them is getting her due.
Odetta Hartman wrote probably my favorite song of 2013, and honestly one of my favorites of the past decade. 222, her new album, steps away from the bombast of “End Of The World” quite a bit, but the quality of work is definitely still there. Partnering with producer Jack Inslee, Hartman has created an album of folk songs that turns equal parts from R&B, jazz, and celtic folk to something refreshing and vibrant. It’s a credit to both producer and performer that they don’t go too subtle or heavy, finding a sweet spot right in the middle.
The sonic palette is pretty consistent throughout, with a pleasant guitar strum present in most of the album. What they throw on top of that guitar, be it strings or field sounds, always seems to work even if it doesn’t make logical sense. The 8 tracks are only a scant 22 minutes all in, but they fit so much music into that short time. “Dreamcatchers” almost sounds like something Beck might’ve left on the Odelay! cutting room floor (cut for time) 20 years ago. It’s got some old-time country roots, but the beat and the vocals are a post-modern feast-the aural version of a barn turned into a spaceship.
My favorite track comes just after the halfway point of 222. “Batonebo” is the albums slow burner, a sexy kiss off that plays like a late night cabaret tune. It’s the only track on the record that features that amazing howl that endeared me so much to “The End Of The World” originally, and they layer some vocals on top of each other at the end that are just crazy. It works kind of like a Broadway musical, but instead of two characters singing over one another it’s just Odetta Hartman’s mind spinning out.
You owe it to yourself to check out Hartman’s work. Start with 222 and then go back and listen to Tally Marks. You can hear the growth in spades, but she stays true to what she loves. She’s got one of the best voices I’ve heard since I started writing about music five years ago, and she plays every instrument on this record (more Beck comparisons). She’s an artist first and foremost, and I look forward to what she’s going to do next. This is only the beginning.