Reviewer: Adam McKibbin at The Red Alert on the web

NYC’s Sidewalk Café has been one of those few venues that have been able to incubate an entire subgenre; they can’t take credit for inventing “anti-folk,” but today’s practitioners in the Sidewalk Café orbit offer a refreshing spin in an era when gloss and irony are de rigueur. On her sixth record, Uphill Both Ways, frequent Sidewalker Jenn Lindsay tries a few new tricks, but none of them involve pandering to the A&R reps who doubtlessly sniff around the scene (and if they weren’t sniffing already, they should be kicked into action by Sidewalk alum Regina Spektor’s oft-brilliant new album, which serves as a testament that the majors don’t always muck things up).

Listening to a Lindsay album for the first time is a bit like being seated next to a stranger at a dinner party and finding out a lot about her dating history and her general worldview before the salads are cleared. After six albums, then, she feels more like an old friend at the table. Whereas Fired! took aim at the perils of the 9-to-5 rat race, Uphill Both Ways—while not so unified in its theme—is largely informed by a Big Breakup. The heartache culminates in what feels like the centerpiece of the album, even though it comes right at the end. “Kitchen Sink,” which attaches Lindsay’s sweetly affecting and unadorned vocals with lyrics that are so personal and openly transparent that they make diary entries look like Burroughs. “I gave you great sex and some pretty awesome presents,” she sings over a simple strum. The bold stroke is that there’s no pretense of making this into a universal song that vaguely applies to everyone. It’s for one person, and the fact that the rest of us are listening in seems to be merely incidental.

While “Kitchen Sink” is the most stop-you-in-your-tracks piece of Uphill Both Ways, the tracks that most demand repeat listens are the ones that kick it up-tempo, like the gently propulsive title track that opens the record, and the rousing, self-reflective “It Came 2 Me.” Less successful is the Katrina-inspired reworking of “House of the Rising Sun” and “Amazing Grace.” Social consciousness has been one of Lindsay’s consistent strengths, and her pointed lyrical content about politicians asleep at the wheel is welcome, but the musical approach feels a bit cursory. As the single “big issue” song on an album otherwise driven largely by a personal love story, it has a disorienting effect.

— Adam McKibbin