One day, Jeff Hanson will be able to begin interviews by talking about something other than his falsetto voice or the delicate, folk-trimmed melodies that adorn his wistful songs " characteristics that have earned him a description as "a female Elliott Smith." Of course, Hanson is not a woman, although his willowy vocals flutter so high, you wouldn't know it.
"Elliott Smith's a melodic songwriter who at one point was signed to Kill Rock Stars, so I think it starts there for me," Hanson said. "I'm a singer/songwriter signed to Kill Rock Stars. I'm very big into melody, harmony and into older influences as far as music from the '60s and '70s. So that makes perfect sense to me."
He's not concerned about the comparisons " they're a compliment, from his perspective. He suggests that Nick Drake may be just as big an influence. However, Hanson's latest album, "Madam Owl," is at times even more suggestive of Smith, during his later, string-abetted, major-label efforts, thanks to its lush profile.
It's easily Hanson's most polished. Although it lacks any amplified instruments (other than an electric bass on one song), the disc has arrangements richly fleshed with all manner of strings from cello to violin, and it positively bristles with energy. He hints that the sound might have something to do with the drummer: For the first time, it's not he.
"For the first two records, I played just about all the instruments," he said. "This time, I knew I didn't want to play the bass, and I didn't want to play the drums. I just wanted to play the guitar."
Hanson first became fascinated with music at a young age, and by 5, he had his first guitar. In middle school, he started M.I.J., a emo band with some neighborhood friends, cutting several releases for Caulfield Records before dissolving. That's when at 24, Hanson began his solo career. He recorded some demos and sent them around. Hanson wouldn't wait long. Within six months, indie label Kill Rock Stars had bitten on his potential, flying him out for a few showcases and eventually signing the performer for 2003's debut, "Son."
"Madam Owl" is a much different album than its self-titled 2005 predecessor. For one thing, Hanson is in a different place. While it's a warmer, richer-sounding release, the subject matter is more disconsolate and lost, wandering eyes averted upward.
"Each record has such a different feel," Hanson said. "For the first record, I was moving into a different place, and getting married. For my second record, I got married, and everything was so nice after that. Then for 'Madam Owl,' everything was kind of crumbling and falling apart. Now the fourth record, I'm divorced.
"It's a brutal thing, divorce. But I have a feeling that my last eight to nine months is going to turn into some kind of record."
Jeff Hanson with Student Film and The Separation perform at 8 p.m. Friday at The Conservatory, 8911 N. Western. "Chris Parker