Jennifer O’Connor released two smart singer-songwriter records—Over The Mountain, Across The Valley, And Back To The Stars and Here With Me—on Matador in the late ’00s. But like millions of her fellow Americans, O’Connor’s qualifications weren’t enough to keep her employed in recent years. She parted ways with Matador in 2009, and temporarily gave up the life of a professional musician, working odd-jobs while writing songs for her fifth record, I Want What You Want. At the very least, the album shows O’Connor is better off writing songs than filing papers or serving drinks: Leavening her usual sensitivity and unadorned acoustic melodies with tough-minded flintiness and crunchy rock ’n’ roll attitude, Want is a survivor’s statement of purpose that’s brimming with stubborn persistence and inspiring gusto.
While Want is a homemade affair that O’Connor released on her own label, it’s not exactly a pared-down album. In fact, it expands on the comparatively austere Here With Me with subtle keyboard shadings on the slow-crawling “Change Your Life” and an effectively simple rhythm section banging out a caveman beat on the no-frills drone-rocker “Already Gone.” O’Connor remains a folkie at heart—see the pretty string-soaked ballad “Swan Song (For Bella),” which was written (and rejected) for a Twilight movie—but Want hits surprisingly hard, veering into full-on Crazy Horse guitar-sprawl mode on “No One Knows Anything.” O’Connor might have been out of the game for a while, but she’s back and asserting her understated (and apparently undervalued) talents.