Tuneful, heartfelt and impeccably arranged singer-songwriter fare is the stock in trade of Ellen Starski. On the Nashville artist’s latest release, Sara’s Half-Finished Love Affair, she presents a varied set of songs. Rising above the singer-with-an-acoustic milieu, Starski draws deftly from glitchy 90s’ alt rock (Suzanne Vega’s 99.9F° seems a useful reference point), Americana (the keening yet subtle slide guitar that adorns “Come to Me Lover”), trip-hop (“The Satellite That Changed its Tune”) and other flavors. Her strong and clear voice is a wonderfully expressive instrument, and she employs is expertly, never in a showy manner, always in service to the songcraft.
For me the high point is the uptempo yet vaguely sinister “Have We Forgotten,” but there’s much to savor among the album’s eleven tracks. “Follow My Lead” features a delightfully evocative string arrangement, and the moody, percussive “Find Your Way” conjures a haunted, melancholy vibe. And the title track that closes the record doubles down on that quality, with a spare arrangement that subtly includes all manner of treats, most notably a high-lonesome guitar figure. If this album is the sound of a half-finished love affair, here’s hoping it never ends.