Jeff Hanson's voice is his defining trait, but listeners who get preoccupied with the ethereal, ladylike falsetto run the risk of ignoring the "songwriter" part of "singer-songwriter." His third album, Madam Owl, doesn't differ much technically from its predecessors, adding flourishes when necessary and keeping things achingly elegant and simple at other times. From the stark flugelhorn on "The Hills" to the clucking banjo on "If Only I Knew," Hanson knows when to build bigger textures and when to pare back and be more vulnerable. There are no dramatically building eight-minute songs like there were on his self-titled sophomore album, but his lyrics, if anything, are more memorable this time out. "No Never Mine" opens and closes with the stunning admission, "I've done what I've done / There's no use in trying the right way now." From the excellent, sweeping opener "Night" to the somber closer "This Friend Of Mine," a recurring theme on Madam Owl is the persistence of change, for better and worse. Hanson approaches it with the understanding that there's value in things that can't be changed—and that accepting those things at face value can be liberating.

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