Last night Linda Draper played the release show for her new album Edgewise to an adoring crowd in the West Village, backed by the acerbic Matt Keating (who also produced the album) on lead guitar and piano and Eric Puente on drums. While Draper has made a career out of reinventing herself, two things, tunefulness and smart lyrics, have been consistent in her work, all the way through her transition from early-zeros acoustic rock songwriter, to mid-zeros hypnotic lyrical surrealist, to early teens Americana chanteuse. Her melodies linger in your head long after they’re over; her words will tickle you just as often as they snarl and bite. And her calm, airy voice, always a strength, just gets more and more nuanced and compelling. Throughout it all, she’s never given in to any kind of cliche, never succumbed to the temptation to coast on her looks and sing top 40 schlock even though the opportunity must have raised its ugly head at some point.
As expected, most of the songs were taken from the album. Draper brought to mind Eilen Jewell’s southwestern gothic with the bristling Live Wire, a dark Appalachian folk tune livened with Keating’s glistening noir piano. They kept the rustic menace going with the tensely pulsing Hollow, an entreaty to “get it out of your system before you become cold and numb,” to smash through the darkness and seize the fun lurking just beyond.
A jaunty, upbeat new number hinted at hip-hop with its rapidfire lyrics and bouncy swing. Then they went back to the brooding desert rock ambience with the cynical escape anthem Sleepwalkers: “Even the pureset of angels would crash and burn in a place like this,” Draper sang with an understated somberness. They followed that with the loudest song in the set, the new album’s bittersweetly triumphant title track. Draper usually plays solo acoustic shows: hearing her songs fleshed out this energetically, even roaringly, was a rare treat, especially on the Johnny Cash-influenced Shadow of a Coal Mine.
Bitterness and anger are not the only emotions that inform her music. She can also be very funny, as she was on one of the later numbers, In Good Hands, making the connection between backbiting trendoid one-upsmanship and yuppie conspicuous consumption. The crowd begged for an encore: she gave them a casually snide, animated solo acoustic version of the kiss-off anthem Time Will Tell, from her previous album Bridge and Tunnel. From here Draper is off to the Outer Space in Hamden, Connecticut for a 6 PM doublebill toinght, May 24 with underground folk legend Kath Bloom, then Club Passim in Boston on the 26th at 7 and then a killer doublebill with Randi Russo May 28 at 8 at the Township in Chicago.