Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Lucy Dacus has a voice that’s easy to warm up to. Her honeyed tones are comforting and soulful, closer to the jazzy pop of someone like Feist than the stream-of-consciousness sing-speak of Courtney Barnett. It’s one of the Richmond, Virginia singer-songwriter’s greatest strengths. Even when the subject matter is fraught with sadness or uncertainty, it’s never delivered in such a way as to set the listener on edge. She’s letting us in on a private conversation, one in which we’re not eavesdropping but a welcome ear.
That doesn’t mean there’s no edge to Dacus’ debut, No Burden, released via Matador after a smaller initial release via Egghunt earlier this year. It’s a rock album, and one that hits hard in its most soaring peaks. The bluesy “Troublemaker, Doppelganger” has swagger for days, while the fuzzy “Strange Torpedo” gradually grows denser and fuzzier over the course of its four-and-a-half minutes. Rather than seeming out of step with Dacus’ softly expressive coo, the garagey muscle behind a song like opener “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore” only reinforces the burdensome thought process (contrary to the album’s title) behind her identity crisis. “Is there room in the band? I don’t need to be the frontman,” she sings.
As powerful as Dacus can be with the roar of a full band behind her, she only needs a guitar and a little bit of reverb to leave an impact. “Dream State” is one of the most affecting songs of the bunch, the tune dropping to near silence as she croons, “Without you I am surely the last of our kind.” She repeats the line at the end of “Familiar Place,” a simple, melancholy strummer that’s as gorgeous as anything here. Dacus may not be the last of her kind, but performers with the kind of effortless warmth she evokes are certainly a rare breed.