Odetta Hartman. The name itself sounds like a spitfire character from an old Western, and her debut album 222 extends that myth, blowing it up until it explodes in a flurry of twisted banjo, warped violin, and eerie field recordings. The ghosts of the Wild West that Hartman summons here are mostly drawn from her imagination, or our larger shared archetype of that mythical place. The 25-year-old was raised in Manhattan by her parents, the founders of beloved East Village pizza staple Two Boots. (Fun fact: The first New York City “slice” I ever had was from Two Boots, but that’s purely coincidence.) Maybe it was her metropolitan childhood that drew Hartman to the wide expanses of experimental folk and the rich history of America’s now-settled wildernesses. 222 is barely 22 minutes long, but each of the eight tracks assumes its own mood and shape, ranging from sweet and mournful to weird and primitive.
One of the longest tracks here isn’t about the wilderness at all — or rather, it’s about the way Los Angeles exists in the East Coast’s imagination as the sunny polar opposite of New York’s gray metallic sheen. “Lazy LA” unspools like the inverse of a Lana Del Rey song, finding meaning in every leaf and river-bend, no Hollywood ennui in sight. But most of what’s here veers toward a more skeletal, electrified soul sound. Opener “Creektime” mixes birdsong with a raspy Joplin impression and insistent banjo; “Batonebo” stalks and stomps even further into blues territory, pulsing with an aggression that never quite boils over. “Tap Tap” is my favorite on the album, and goes back toward hushed, pastoral folk, rippling the calm ever so slightly with ghostly white noise — the memory of a city transposed over a meadow.
Hartman’s greatest strength is that she knows how to edit herself without reining in the full scope of her impulses. She gives herself free reign as a vocalist, ranging from a shadowy, silvery croon to a fierce, guttural shriek, and neither feels at all contrived. Similarly, her impulse to mix elements of folk, bluegrass, and Americana with experimental or warped psychedelia is bridged by her strength as a lyricist, and the strength of the record’s producer Jack Inslee. On the album’s last song, “Lucky Dog,” she sings: “My mind overcomes the myth of my whispering behemoth,'” a succinct summary of her own powers. She can soar toward the far reaches of the mystical and hypothetical without losing her earthy, rational center; that’s what makes her mythology worth studying. Hartman plays Elvis Guesthouse this Wednesday 9/30 with our own beloved genre queer duo PWR BTTM, and she has a release party for 222 will take place next Thursday, 10/8, at Rockwood Music Hall for locals or any wanderers who might be in town. Until then, stream the whole record below.
222 is out 10/2 via Northern Spy Records. Pre-order it here.