If you've previously encountered Morgan Nusbaum as the harmonically gifted bassist/backup vocalist for the dear, departed 75s or as the banshee-howling leader of Bruiser Queen, you'll likely be surprised by the emotionally resonant but relatively low-key songs on Nusbaum's solo debut. Let It In hews pretty closely to minor-key singer-songwriter turf — her pop, punk and pop-punk leanings are set aside for broadly strummed acoustic guitars and sometimes quavering, sometimes fragile but never retiring vocals. When that venom springs up, as it does on the sinister and seductive "Every Night," Nusbaum can summon up some vocal firepower against big swaths of overdriven guitar and Jason Potter's sympathetic, unfussy drums. But for the bulk of the album, the girl-and-her-guitar approach serves the singer well, even if she is still learning how to best use her big voice in this more subdued setting.
Coming square in the middle of an eleven-track album, "19" is both the disc's most unadorned recording and its most potent performance. Blame it on the ubiquity of "Rolling in the Deep" or that the song title recalls Adele's debut record, but the song could pass for a demo recording of that young British soul singer. Here, Nusbaum shouts at the mountaintops in the chorus and lets her own brand of soul — wounded and righteous — climb the crest of a wave and then lets it ride on down. At times the vocals are roughshod, as is some of the guitar work, but it works as a hybrid of the singer-songwriter genre and the garage-rock aesthetic that both Nusbaum and Potter love so dearly. But like a good soul singer, she's also a good interpreter of others' work. A spare, slow-burning turn at Cat Power's "Metal Heart," complete with a last-minute drum explosion, takes the song back to its Moon Pix roots and away from Chan Marshall's recent lightweight-blues renditions. Consider Nusbaum's version an act of artistic reclamation amid an album built around her own artistic rebirth.
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