Brooklyn songwriter Sharon Van Etten has made a brave record in Tramp. And brave records come with brave album covers, and Tramp possesses a great one: a stark, black-and-white portrait of Van Etten's stoic face. "The artwork is just me trying to be simple and make eye contact," Van Etten says. "It's trying to be myself." The record succeeds at that. And even if doesn't — if the characters in "I'm Wrong," "Give Out," and "We Are Fine" are exaggerated self-caricatures, the kind short-handed by the Larry Davids and Elvis Costellos of the world — it doesn't matter. Van Etten's strength as a songwriter comes from her mastery of simple phrase and direct communication, and letting herself off the hook isn't part of the deal. "I like double meaning . . . I like Charlie Chaplin," Van Etten says, "and he's considered the 'king of the tramp.' It got me thinking: Why, with women, is the word 'tramp' seen as negative, but with men, it's seen as endearing? I'm not trying to make a huge statement politically, but all of those songs are love songs about different people, so I was trying to own up to that word on whatever side of things, while being honest and sincere, while being silly. I think that 'tramp' kind of sums that up."
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