RAISED BY WOLVES
By the time Jenee Halstead gets to the opening lines of “Bitten by the Night,” it’s apparent she’s not the same singer-songwriter she presented on her 2008 debut. “I spike my coffee in the morning/ Drink from the bottle at night/ I am not the person I used to be,” Halstead intones over the clang of a twanging electric guitar.
It’s the sound of not only a woman down and out, but of an artist inspired by a new direction. “Raised by Wolves” makes the elegant folk-pop of Halstead’s first album, “The River Grace,” seem like a blur in the rearview mirror.
If her debut was a floral-print sundress, its follow-up is a black leather jacket ripped at the sleeves. Halstead, who is 36 and lives in Somerville, already had grace in spades, but it’s fascinating to see what happens when she adds some grit to the mix.
On songs like the title track, she explores the tension between synthetic and organic elements. A programmed drum machine sets the rhythm on “Never Another” against the gentle strum of ukulele and the crystalline allure of Halstead’s voice. A similar approach — a canned beat caroming off electric guitar — gives “So Far So Fast” a razor’s edge.
The real revelation, though, is “Heart Song,” an ethereal lover’s lament. As Halstead comes to terms with her own flaws (“I’m gonna paint my old room red/ I’m gonna show my mother’s love/ I’m gonna say all the things I never said/ That pushed us apart”), a backdrop of distorted electric Dobro churns behind her. It unfurls at a glacial pace that belies just how hot-blooded this beguiling album is.
Jenee Halstead plays a CD-release show at Lizard Lounge on Friday at 9 p.m., with the Russians and Dan Blakeslee opening. Tickets: $10. 617-547-0759, www.brownpapertickets.com