ARIEL ABSHIRE: Exclamation Love [Darla]

Female singer/songwriters are an easily maligned bunch. It is nothing, after all, to lump one in with two dozen others and think of them en masse as nothing much. There are people who defy that pigeonholing—Jenny Lewis and Martha Wainwright, to name two contemporary examples—and Ariel Abshire could fall on either side of the great divide. On Exclamation Love, Abshire wails and croons like a far less embattled Wainwright (their voices are quite alike) while relying, at times, too much on the saccharine and repetitive, as in the chorus of the title track. The saving grace, and the thing that will make the album that follows Exclamation Love a watershed moment for Abshire, is that she has an undeniable cleverness running through her songs. “Goddamn New Mexico,” with its expletive-laden disdain of geography’s questionable effect on the goodness or badness of people, “I Didn’t Know People Could Do That” and “Thin Skin” are lyrically satisfying, witty and endearing. But other tracks, such as “Unknown Encounter,” fight the bigger demons of Exclamation Love with the better angels of Abshire’s songwriting, and it’s a constant struggle where neither comes out victorious. Abshire’s lyrical wit and unadorned-yet-beautiful voice, though, compel the ears to like Exclamation Love more for what it suggests about her future than her present. [www.darla.com]

—Pat Hipp