Michelle Branch, "Hopeless Romantic" (Verve Records)
The last time Michelle Branch released a full-length solo album was the same year Apple launched iTunes and "Finding Nemo" was in movie theaters. Judging by Branch's excellent new album, let's try to get her back in the studio as soon as possible.
A mature, complex Branch emerges on "Hopeless Romantic ," her voice able to go huskier and much slinkier. Her songwriting is confident about life's utter messiness and her sound is rooted more in rock than pop. She's still writing about heartbreak and love, but now it's sung by a mother and an ex-wife.
"I don't want to waste any more time," she sings in the superb first song, the lusty "Best You Ever." She's spiky and defiant at an old flame in "Not a Love Song," ready to be naughty in "Bad Side" and sloppily drunk in love in "Carry Me Home." On "Knock Yourself Out," she sings: "I'm just trying to figure out who I am."
There are shimmery guitars, handclaps and electronic touches, but the 14-track album — flawlessly produced by Gus Seyffert and Branch's boyfriend, Patrick Carney of The Black Keys — always, and wisely, keeps Branch front and center.
Branch, who had hits with "Everywhere" and "All You Wanted," largely slipped away after her last solo album in 2003, emerging in 2006 with the short-lived country duo The Wreckers. There was a sense that this promising artist was missing. It turned out that we were the ones missing out.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits