The May Street Project (RCA)

Shea Seger 

The May Street Project (RCA)

Shea Seger's The May Street Project is an unusually adult summation of this Quitman, Texas, native's adolescent heartaches. It's also hard proof that Total Request Live-ready pop music needn't sacrifice emotional intimacy to move the crowd. Granted, Seger (just 23 and now living in London) isn't an especially distinctive songwriter yet, and her breathy, languid delivery feels a trifle rehearsed and self-consciously sexy. But her scratchy drawl more than connects, whether she's scaling producer Martin Terefe's highest Wall of Sound or standing stripped before break-beats and bass. Even her most tedious lines (You got me going crazy for you, baby) are enlivened by settings that pulse and bump, swing and fly. Seger might only be as good as her soundscapes right now, but her soundscapes smoke.

The music here -- basically rock song structures set to hip-hop drum loops (If you can't clap on the one, don't clap at all), Chemical Brothers bass lines and dance-club synths -- is always sonically competitive with the latest workouts from Britney or J. Lo. But Seger's disc also simmers with country soul, thanks to subtle acoustic picking and plenty of elbow room between the beats. At her best, Seger sounds as receptive to the music of Lucinda Williams, Janis Joplin or Sheryl Crow as she does Madonna, Macy Gray or Alanis Morrisette. She duets with rapper D.R.U.G.S. ("Blind Situation") as easily as she does with Canadian singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith ("Always"), and whether she's singing about relationships that need to end but won't, or ones that have literally gone up in smoke, she makes her youthful angst the focus of even the most danceable rhythm tracks.

"Last Time" is the stunning opening cut and first single, where Seger keeps waking up next to a lover she wants rid of despite a spiraling string arrangement that makes her sound mighty enough to do as she pleases. And the record only grows more soulful as it goes, peaking with a simmering grind called "Isn't It Good" (imagine Gladys Knight's "Neither One of Us" crossed with Spandau Ballet's "True," as sung by Shelby Lynne and produced by D'Angelo) and the church-fueled rock and roll of "I Can't Lie." That last one will leave you convinced Seger's debut should've been called Exile On May Street.

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