It feels awkward to just blurt it out, but Mo Kenney has achieved a craft on the level with artists including Ani DiFranco, Stevie Nicks, Jolie Holland and Neko Case on her self-titled debut. Such a statement feels awkward because the album in question is her first; those other artists had to work for years to refine their talents and chops, but it’s hard not to feel like you’re bearing witness to the birth of a new star when you hear this record.
Listeners will know they’re hearing something special as, from the top of “Eden,” Mo Kenney conjures a sort of classic coffeehouse acousticism which turned timeless for acts including The Beatles (“Blackbird”), The Replacements (“Skyway”), The Killjoys (“Someplace”) and Ani DiFranco (“Both Hands”) years ago – but the singer makes her own here. The song’s finger-picked guitars are only the gateway which will hold listeners dazzled as lyrics like “Busy, busy, go go go/ Run around don’t let me know/ All we do is dream out loud/ and you see your own face in the clouds” threaten to rewrite the bodily rhythms of those who hear them and, as the song fades out and “Sucker” fades in, listeners will find they are changed. That’s when they’ll be ready for this record.
After “Eden” prepares listeners, Kenney sets to presenting as complete an image of herself – that is, who she is at this point in time – as she can. As she builds that image, she does so unafraid to both totally disarm herself in front of listeners (check out “The Great Escape”) as well as present a much larger and imposing figure for them (you have to hear the size of “Déjà Vu” for yourself to believe it), but the best moments are those when Kenney allows herself to fall perfectly at the midpoint between those poles. Tracks like “Sucker,” “I Can’t Talk” and “Scene Of The Crime” represent perfect examples of that midpoint where Kenney is able to teeter between heartfelt and cavalier poses effortlessly and make lines like “Before you left me in this place/ You gave me a look that I could taste,” “I won’t pray to you/ There’s no cross around my neck” and “A lifetime in no time at all” seem like the newest, best reason to believe in indie rock again, and listeners will find themselves hoping to hear more and more of them at each turn through the album’s run-time. The effect is remarkable; this untested singer manages to capture the imagination of everyone who happens upon this record, but then they’ll find themselves held dearly by it too. That’s fantastic to experience, but even better is the fact that this album is only Mo Kenney’s first; it’s very possible that the going will actually get better from this point forward.