Over the Mountain, Across the Valley, and Back to the Stars 

Jennifer O'Connor (Matador)

Folkie singer-songwriters are a dime-a-dozen, but I'll be damned if this New York City-based guitar strummer and storyteller isn't my favorite discovery of the kind since Amy Rigby and Todd Snider. Like Rigby and frequent comparison Liz Phair, there's nothing flowery or lachrymose here -- in her words, music, or, most crucially, her vocals. O'Connor's lyrics are smart, concrete, and evocative, tapping into emotions without exploiting them. And her music has a surly, rock-based propulsion. "Exeter, Rhode Island," about driving home from the airport after dropping off a lover ("The radio plays a power-pop song/It keeps me company like a friend/I travel down 102 South/And want to kiss your mouth again") is a low-key charmer. "Sister," about missing hers, is stirring and lovely. ("Bullshit Maze," "Complicated Rhyme," "Perfect Match")

-- Chris Herrington

Grade: A

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