Onstage at Joe’s Pub a few months back, flanked by a couple of sport-jacketed downtown types oozing prosthetic Cubanos cool, wearing a sassy brown bob and expensive-looking cowgirl boots (she confessed she forgot her hat backstage), local singer-songwriter Eszter Balint exuded the darkly comic sangfroid of Six Feet Under‘s Rachel Griffiths. Since Balint’s also an actor (with Jarmusch and Buscemi on her résumé), that might be her way of dealing with clinking glasses and a door staff eager to shuttle Dan Bern’s paying fans inside. But Mud, Balint’s second album, is bleary with the same washed-out animus that fuels SFU, so I’m inclined to think it’s a worldview thing. (Plus, most of it’d fit fine between the Peggy Lee and PJ Harvey cuts on the show’s soundtrack.)
Balint gets Mud‘s thrills out of rubbing her cramped, elliptical tunes against producer J.A. Foster’s post-Froom studio gunk: the way she hovers over the rocky-bottom slide guitar of opener “Pebbles & Stones”; how she commands “Take your leopard gaze off me” in “Here We Are” while the bassist buckets dirty well water; the miniature battle of evermore between Balint’s violin and Chris Cochrane’s amp moan that winds up “If.” “I put the soil all over me,” she sings in “Weeds,” going down, down past Chinatown.