Seattle-based singer/songwriter Shelby Earl begins her genre-blurring sophomore album Swift Arrows in girl-group land: Against the charming doo-wop piano stroll of the title track, she sings with a theatrical sweetness that channels Regina Spektor by way of Ronnie Spector, with a hint of St. Vincent’s poised regret. “You’ll find one poison-tipped swift arrow in your mind/ And they’ll find one poison-tipped swift arrow in their eye,” she sighs, over chiming bells and strings. It’s a moment that tips her hand: The sound is sweet, but this is a singer/songwriter unafraid of dirty riffs and dark lyrics—all delivered with a wicked grin.
With Damien Jurado in the producer’s chair, Earl strays from the winsomeness of her debut, Burn the Boats. She still dabbles in folk, as on the echo-filled backcountry lament “Grown Up Things” or the hypnotic “The Seer,” which hinges on nothing but Earl’s mournful vocals and a single acoustic guitar before spiky electric guitars rough things up. Swift Arrows is the work of an artist who has discovered her tart, wry voice, which infuses her songs no matter what shape they take: “I love you/ You love you too,” goes the mocking singsong of the Phil Spector-leaning “The Artist.” “I’ll make the bed while you are off to shoot the moon,” she sings, tongue firmly planted in cheek. Yeah, right. Earl may be an adroit shapeshifter, but she’s no one’s woman but her own.