Singer and songwriter Angel Olsen will appear at Zanzabar on August 22 at 9 p.m., touring behind her latest release, Half Way Home. Olsen first grabbed attention with her debut album, Strange Cacti, and the follow-up shows that she is an artist growing in self-confidence and adding new elements to a sound that is dominated by her powerful voice. After her stop in Louisville and a few other U.S. dates, Olsen heads to Europe, so catching her live in an intimate setting like the ZBar is your music bet for the month.
The Chicago-based Olsen may be familiar already to fans of Louisville musician Will Oldham, as she has collaborated (most recently on Wolfroy Goes to Town) and toured with Bonnie "Prince" Billy extensively. Another Oldham connection is musician Emmett Kelly, who produced and provided additional guitar work, drums, and vocals to Half Way Home.
While there are a few guests on the album, there's no question who is the star of the show. The first track is called "Acrobat" and it's an apt description of Olsen's striking voice, which seems capable of nearly any vocal contortion. Soaring, wailing, breathy, or plaintive, Olsen's voice is a force of nature. That half-tamed quality is what gives the album its tension and interest; these are not perfect songs, and if her voice wobbles off-key here and there, it enhances, rather than detracts, from the feeling of honesty and authenticity that comes through. No one is sitting at a board auto-tuning or getting twenty takes. Olsen lets go of the trapeze and sails through the air without a net, and it's often a thrill to hear her take off.
The closest the album comes to an up-tempo number is the second track, "The Waiting," an engagingly retro-pop lover's complaint. "Someone to run, not walk/someone to sing not talk/no hesitation at all/sometimes I need you to be the one to call." Listening to the recorded album has its own charms, but mostly, it makes you want to see Olsen perform live. On the road, she will have a new backing ensemble -- Stewart Bronaugh on bass and Joshua Jaeger on drums.
Also on the bill next Thursday night is Nashville singer William Tyler. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door (21 and over) at Zanzabar, which is located at 2100 S. Preston St. Below, check out the video for Olsen's song "Tiniest Seed."