Every few months, the mean streets of Pittsburgh somehow turn out another solo performer who sounds like she's arrived straight from the heartland after spending an eternity of starry nights on a farmhouse back porch. Luckily, Jenn Gooch isn't just another one of those.
True, her presentation with only vocals and banjo is sparse and folky, but she doesn't get stuck in either rigid traditionalism or Triple-A slickness. While tangentially of interest to bluegrass revivalists or neo-cabaret steampunkers, Gooch's debut CD, produced by Dave Bernabo, is more along the lines of acoustic-based pop songs. Her opening slot for banjo hero Jayme Stone was well received, and I could see Ditty Bops, Tom Waits and Rasputina fans digging her. And the indie kids will definitely eat up the influences she lists on her MySpace page: Joanna Newsom, Jolie Holland, Jeff Mangum and Sufjan Stevens.
With a quirky and drawling, yet hypnotic vocal style, Gooch is probably best allied locally with the likes of Boca Chica and Emily Rodgers. But her lyrics are at an intense creative-writing-major level, begging for a close listen. Luckily, there's a handmade booklet for following along with the eloquent, if occasionally disturbing imagery. I don't know many songwriters with lines like "In a kosher deli with a heavy belly / I saw a picture of Ariel Sharon being buried / and I thought of the prison fire that took Dad away," or "We sewed our skin into conjoined twins but were severed by fate / And the church and state held raucous debates to barrage and berate us."
But don't get the idea Gooch is a sourpuss. She has a way with a turn of the phrase and a pluck of the strings that'll have you grinning -- if perhaps somewhat evilly, and with a cynical take on the world -- by the end of every song.
Jenn Gooch CD release with George Neal and the Harlan Twins. 7 p.m. Sat. Nov. 1. Howler's Coyote Café, 4509 Liberty Ave., Bloomfield. $5. 412-682-0320