TRACY SHEDD: Cigarettes & Smoke Machines [Teenbeat]

Chances are, you’ve heard something similar to Tracy Shedd before. Surrounded by guitar tones that vary from stark to stratospheric (depending on the mood), Shedd sings in a unprepossessing, hushed voice that recalls everyone from Mazzy Star and Lush to just about half of early-’90s Britain. But for all the comforting pangs of nostalgia bubbling to the surface, the energy and craft found in her road-ready songs keep Cigarettes & Smoke Machines firmly grounded in the present. There’s simply no resisting the Missouri River-wide hook of opener “Never Too Late,” where an initially grim atmosphere melts away with Shedd’s double-tracked voice in a sunnily anthemic chorus. Elsewhere, the Tucson, Ariz., transplant shows her new home’s influence with “Not Giving Up,” a dry acoustic shuffle with big-sky guitar that hints at Calexico (whose frontman, Joey Burns, appears as a guest musician). Cigarettes & Smoke Machines falters when Shedd drifts into monochromatic balladry, as with the pretty-yet-meandering “Paris” and the brief, nondescript “Valentine,” but such lapses are quickly forgotten in the face of its brightest moments, particularly “Won Past Ten.” Powered by a bubbling guitar figure and a gleam of youthful innocence, Shedd indirectly answers any possible criticism with the question, “When was the last time that you felt like you were 17?” Point taken. []

—Chris Barton