Native San Franciscan and current Richmond resident Noe Venable's 1998 debut No Curses Here showed exceptional promise -- strong, offbeat songwriting and a knack for bringing fresh touches to folk or jazz or whatever she set her mind to. But it couldn't prepare us for the polish of Boots, the 25-year-old singer-songwriter's third album, to be released with a bang this Saturday at SF's Noe Valley Ministry, nestled in the neighborhood for which she was named. The bizarro beatnik balladry of her earlier endeavors have blossomed here into artfully arranged, forceful story-songs of breathtaking beauty and bite. "I have never been one for prettiness prettiness," Venable protests in "Prettiness." "Thinking of lace 'bout makes me puke." And indeed, the granulated sweetness of her voice is quickly cut through with unblinking intensity when you realize she's singing about goddess piss and trampled illusions. With imagistic eloquence and sure-handed song craft, Venable curates a dreamy bestiary of debunked fairy tales and bottled longings. There are nearly acoustic lullabies of discontent through which her breathy soprano streams like bright sunlight through an opening door, but other tracks are lushly (but tastefully) produced by Todd Sickafoose, making for stirring visionary plunges through the depths of uncertainty and forlorn hope. Through it all, Venable's deftly veering vocals chill us with warbling wails and jar us with girlish shouts. It's the cry of Little Red Riding Hood lost in the woods and leaving a crumb-trail of broken wolves behind her.
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