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JESSE SYKES & THE SWEET HEREAFTER:: Like, Love, Lust & the Open Halls of the Soul

Heavy metal has nothing on dark Americana music when it comes to creating an atmosphere of brooding intensity. It’s been something of a specialty over the years for Jesse Sykes, and she excels at it on her third album.

Although these 12 new rootsy songs feature brawny electric-guitar solos and swirling organ, Sykes’ voice is always the true focal point. It’s a parched instrument that rarely rises above a dusty murmur on “The Air Is Thin” and rings out with world-weary force over growling guitar parts on “LLL.”

It’s a voice well-suited to downhearted subject matter, which is another of Sykes’ specialties. Characters in her songs are always leaving or about to leave. Cold raindrops fall, hard memories linger, and isolation seems like the rule rather than the exception. There are moments of redemption, too, such as bravely accepting the consequences of one’s actions on “Aftermath” and her vision of musical and societal contentment on “I Like the Sound,” which echoes the sound of late-’60s pop, the Mamas and the Papas-style.

There is occasional resemblance here to the drowsy Memphis vibe on Cat Power’s 2006 album, “The Greatest,” but Sykes’ tour the soul is both grittier and spookier.
(ERIC R. DANTON)