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Mitzi Cowell: Love's So ... (Self-released) 

What Mitzi Cowell does on stage with an electric guitar is something to behold—but she continues to evolve the most as a songwriter and recording artist. When she left Tucson for Toronto to study political theory in grad school, few expected her to be back after one semester. It was her time in the Great North, punctuated by trips into Pennsylvania to work on the Obama campaign, that spawned most of the material here, which melds the personal with the political.

Opening with only acoustic guitar and Sabra Faulk's subtle bass on the title track, she combines lightness and innocence. "Free and Brave," part-mission statement, part-unwritten thesis paper, follows. A kick-ass rhythm section of Nick Augustine and Gary Mackender on bass and drums, respectively, joins with Mackender's textured accordion and Cowell's straightforward vulnerability, wrapped around a hook that just won't quit.

Other tunes showcase more blues-oriented ensemble work with AmoChip Dabney and Heidi Wilson on saxophones, and there are a few of Cowell's signature lead guitar licks here and there. There are also some killer harmonies on the traditional "Wake Up, Rosie," courtesy of Caroline Isaacs and Laura Kepner-Adney of the Silver Thread Trio. But in the end, this is pure Mitzi, wearing her heart and her art on her sleeve.

More by Jim Lipson

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