Orenda Fink: Ask the Night (Saddle Creek)

While 2009 has revealed several incredible indie-folk releases—A.A. Bondy and Imaad Wasif, to name just two—there's an inevitable saturation point. Sure, recording an intimate set of songs in a weathered barn in upstate New York or in a cramped Williamsburg apartment possesses inherent charms, but how much longer can those of us in search of something "different" endure yet another mandolin-powered pop song nearly 20 years after R.E.M. made the redneck instrument cool?

If the neo-folk movement continues to produce efforts as fine as Orenda Fink's Ask the Night, perhaps the trend isn't a problem. Now based in Los Angeles, the ex-Azure Ray singer/guitarist recorded her second solo full-length in her old basement in Omaha, Neb., and the modest 8-track approach doesn't hurt the sonic quality.

Overall, Night marks a stark return to Fink's Southern roots, with tracks like "Half-Light" and "Alabama" digging deep into trad-country territory, while others like "High Ground" are so coffeehouse-appropriate you can almost hear a cappuccino machine blasting away in between notes. To be fair, Fink intentionally specializes in quiet, melancholy moods. Too bad certain lyrics weren't better edited to avoid vagueness and exhausted metaphors.

Regardless, Night is the ideal soundtrack to the sun's first quiet rays of dawn.

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