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Music Review

At 21, she's thought things through

“I’m pretty introspective, so that may be why I write things that seem a little more mature,’’ Lydia Loveless says. “I’m pretty introspective, so that may be why I write things that seem a little more mature,’’ Lydia Loveless says. (The Ely Brothers)
By Stuart Munro
Globe Correspondent / October 2, 2011

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Lydia Loveless is a 21-year-old who grew up on a family farm in Ohio and has just released a phenomenal record, “Indestructible Machine.’’ It’s brimming with brashness and vulnerability, confidence and insecurity, and can leave you not knowing quite what to think.

You get a hint of what’s to come as soon as you set eyes on the cover art, which depicts Loveless (yes, that’s her birth name) drinking lightning from a jerry can in the midst of a blasted terrain. Start to listen, and you discover songs with a capacity to unsettle, music that reflects a lot of living and, in some cases, a fair bit of pain, too. Alcohol and the problems it can bring are recurring themes: “I hope this moment will never be over/ Because I just don’t know how I’m gonna face being sober’’ (from her song “Crazy’’) is a typical sentiment.

When asked where that perspective comes from in someone her age, Loveless, who will play at T.T. the Bear’s on Thursday, attributes it to a combination of experience and observing the people around her.

“A lot of people have said that it is unsettling or strange, but I don’t think about it too much when I’m writing,’’ she says. “I’m not suicidal or crying in the corner all day, but I do think about things a lot. I’m pretty introspective, so that may be why I write things that seem a little more mature.’’

Loveless marries her lyrics to a ferocious mix of country and punkish rock that is evocative of Bloodshot Records labelmates such as the Waco Brothers or early Old 97s. Her gale-force singing voice begs for comparison to Neko Case (specifically Case’s first few records, before she went all literate on us). Musically, Loveless cites influences from Hank Williams to Hank III to Richard Hell and the Voidoids.

“I grew up in the country, and when I was living there I didn’t really like what I was hearing, because I grew up with hillbillies that listened to pop country,’’ Loveless says. “But when I moved and met people who listened to old-timey country, it became more interesting to me.’’

Those two generations of Williamses were the particular inspirations for her move toward a more country sound. On the rock side of things, she points to Hell’s influence when she started playing: “I was listening to a lot of him and reading a lot of his poems, and that was inspiring to me lyrically. That was a big thing for me at the time.’’

And yet Loveless’s music comes across as genuinely hers. Rob Miller, one of the owners of Bloodshot, cites that as one of the reasons the label signed her.

“It’s something that has always attracted me to artists and music in general: people who grow up in a state of isolation or outside of popular culture,’’ Miller says. “She has all these raw and undefined and kind of ‘uncontextual’ influences, which I find fascinating. Like Richard Hell - I can hear that guitar tone throughout the record.’’

The sound of “Indestructible Machine’’ is entirely different from the debut Loveless released only a year ago. It’s much rawer and has a larger quotient of rock worked into its country. The difference between the two records, she says, is that the first one was made with a studio band hired by a producer who wanted to make a straight-up country album he intended to pitch to Nashville. “This one was all me, all my decision-making, and it was my band, too, that I put together,’’ Loveless says.

Miller confirms that, with a note of wonder in his voice. Initially he had been bowled over by Loveless’s voice (“She’s got a gift,’’ he says). In light of her age, the label was intrigued by what might happen a few years down the road. When Miller got the first mixes for the record, he had no idea what to expect.

“When I got into the studio and started turning the volume up loud, I couldn’t believe the maturity of the arrangements, what a leap it was from her first CD and how much it just rocked,’’ Miller says. “And sonically, it was all her.’’

Stuart Munro can be reached at sj.munro@verizon.net.

LYDIA LOVELESS

At T.T. the Bear’s on Thursday, 9 p.m. Tickets: $9. 866-777-8932. www.ticketweb.com