In December, I asked New Jersey-based singer-songwriter Jenny Owen Youngs to contribute her favorite songs of the year to the Treble Radio Top 50 of 2004. Her response was just two songs — Sufjan Stevens’ “Size Too Small” and Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” You probably couldn’t find two more polarized choices if you tried. But that’s just what you can expect from Jenny Owen Youngs. She lives in a world of contradictions. Her music is gentle, yet has a dark sense of humor. And she’s been described as having “the voice of an angel and the mouth of a sailor.”
Youngs may thrive on these contradictions, but without a unique perspective, a singer-songwriter would most likely blend in with the other thousands of girls and guys with acoustic guitars. Jenny, on the other hand, seems to be taking on a more lively form of folk music that’s willing to take more chances. One of the influences listed on her bio is “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and, though it isn’t evident on every track, Youngs has a theatricality about her that finds her fitting in comfortably alongside newer eccentric songwriters like Jolie Holland and Nellie McKay.
Youngs’ second, self-released disc, The Scrappy Demo, is a misleading title, as the production sounds much more crisp than many artists’ official releases. On this release, the young singer performs seven lovely (sometimes lively) songs, all of which display her breadth as a songwriter and performer, as they range from slow, moody ballads to lush, multi-instrumental recordings to faster, Ani DiFranco-like folk jams. “Keys Out Lights On” is an immediate favorite for its use of horns and glockenspiel, as well as the keyboard happy “Lightning Rod.” “Porchrail” and “From Here” show the singer taking the tempo up a bit, while “Woodcut” and the bordering-on-stalker lyrics of “Voice on Tape” are soothing, quiet ballads. And the finale, “Fuck Was I,” is a fitting finale — a full-band arrangement that sees Youngs returning to the memorable refrain of “what the fuck was I thinking?”
There are a great number of singer-songwriters out there, many of which all tend to sound exactly the same. And, had you not known any prior information about Jenny Owen Youngs, you might make the same mistake. But she has something special. Her unique talent demands your ears. So I suggest that you stop reading here and go have a listen.
Jolie Holland – Catalpa
Patrick Park – Under the Unminding Skies
Ani DiFranco – Little Plastic Castle
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.