Judith Edelman

Drama Queen (Compass Records)

There's a swath of heartbreak a mile wide running through Judith Edelman'sthird record, Drama Queen. Most of the 13 tracks here are narrated by women who are overworked, underpaid, and/or romantically betrayed, usually all three. What allows Edelman to transcend the weepy bathos of chick rock are the lush instrumentation she assembles here and the sly poetry of her lyrics.

Edelman's sound can be loosely termed neobluegrass. There's picking aplenty on the record. But Edelman varies her approach, weaving elements of blues, country, folk, and Celtic jigs into her compositions. "Don't Open That Door" opens with the mournful strains of Casey Driessen's fiddle before giving way to a jaunty refrain that comes closer to pop. The restless lamentation of "Do I Shine" showcases Ron De La Vega's graceful cello, while Kenny Malone's crisp drum work and Edelman's wobbly bouzouki lend "Blood Reunion" the spunky feel of a dysfunctional hoedown. The masterpiece here is the devious, squalling "The Lies Are True," which showcases the blazing mandolin work of Matt Flinner.

Edelman's voice may be the main attraction here. She doesn't have a terrific range, and she's not the sort to show off her pipes. But she has a sublime, squeaky sort of alto -- think Gillian Welch on a little less helium -- that proves arresting with repeated listens. The unadorned "Sailor Boy," which tells the story of a young war widow's suicide, allows Edelman's talents to shine. When Edelman sings, "So father, father, go dig my grave, place a marble stone at my head and feet, that the world may know I died in grief," you feel the chill down to your toes.

 
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