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Sweet Janes

That sensualism arises from Hoyt's warm, isolated guitar tones -- a handmade Epiphone Riviera through a small Princeton tube amp -- and the hushed warmth of her voice, often whispering -- not because she can't belt or soar (she can) but because her songs linger, without fear of intense closeness, to some very fragile emotions.

All of our old days fall away
They fall away
You and I were once like friends
like lovers almost real

Shooting star, shooting star, I wonder where you are, a blaze of light, a blaze of love

I've been burned by it before

This is fine pop lyricism. Why? Apart from the effortless economy and the reinvigoration of a common cliche, at the heart moves a metaphor sparking off meanings in multiple directions. Fame, love, luck, time, all are wished upon like shootings stars, all those flashing signs of fortune found in bits of matter falling through space. Like friends, like lovers who never become real, they burn in heat for a moment and then die out. The music crests on piano, overwhelming electric guitars, tambourine, a deep soul bass, spiraling classical strings, a halo of female harmonies, and Hoyt's voice, eking out breathless notes, like the droning bleats running through Laurie Anderson's "O Superman."

The songs on Record No. 1 circle around relationships and explore an inwardness that never spills into narcissistic pronoun rock. Playing off violin and cello, used, as Hoyt puts it, "like a rhythm guitar, chugging along, droning," the arrangements stir the melancholy air and frequently burst into unexpected ecstasies. "My friend Ira Robbins said that I'm the saddest happy woman he knows," Hoyt laughs. "I do perceive this intense sadness all the time. But it's like a pendulum. As black as things can be, they can only be as bright."

There's a prayerful attentiveness to Hoyt's songs, an admirable openness towards the glories and pains of life. Midway through Record No. 1 she finds herself, "digging a hole/to bury these words," and yet she feels "like laughing out loud."

"That is something the American Indians did when they had a great pain," Hoyt says. "They'd go away into the woods, dig a hole, and shout into the hole and bury it."

The Mary Janes play the Three-1-Three Club in Belleville, Ill., on Saturday, June 19.

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