JESS KLEIN City Garden (Rykodisc)

Jess Klein is an acoustic guitar-toting New York singer/songwriter, and this is her sixth album. Nothing staggeringly unusual about that, you might think, and with its slightly countrified, vaguely folksy sound “City Garden” frequently lives up to your preconceptions. But an undercurrent of grittiness bubbles beneath these songs, ultimately barring them from whatever convenient stylistic pigeonhole you might try consigning them to. The tumultuous, bucking title track is almost bluesy, and her voice blisters hoarsely during “Real Live Love” in a fashion that’s more Janis Joplin than Mary Chapin Carpenter. She does intimate too, witness the gently sustained metaphor of “Swimming Pool”, on which her guitar strings squeak like crickets. The album’s astonishing emotional centrepiece, though, is “All I Ever Had”. Both intimate and terrifying, raw like a wound and raspy like fingernails scraping a blackboard, it puts the listener through the wringer like no other song I’ve heard during 2006.