Jenny Lou Drew.  Photo courtesy of the artist

Pittston-based singer-songwriter Jenny Lou Drew started writing songs when she was 6 years old and has been singing since she could talk. She still has a song on a yellow sheet of paper that her mother wrote for her when she was 8. Drew picked up the guitar at 13. Not one for formal lessons, Drew is self-taught with the exception of a handful of classical guitar lessons when she was 14.

In June 2015, Drew released a self-titled album, and in 2017 created a short-film/collaborative art project for one of the album’s songs, called “For What It’s Worth.” On Saturday night, she celebrates the release of her second album, “Rockbiter,” with a show at Portland House of Music, where she’ll be joined by Lauren Crosby and Earl Mac.

I’m going to make a bold statement and declare this the local album of the year. Drew has more than picked up where she left off with the last album; she has elevated her already compelling songwriting to an even higher plane. If you’re ready and willing, she’ll take you on a journey that’s deeply personal. There’s an ardent quality to her voice that will keep your heart in its crosshairs. Four years ago I described Drew’s vocals as having a “stirring, ancient quality to them.” This remains true, and paired with the eight new songs she’s written for “Rockbiter,” I can’t stop listening to the album and can’t wait to hear it performed live.

Drew used a NASA photograph to create the cover for “Rockbiter.” Image courtesy of Jenny Lou Drew

The inspiration for the title track was drawn from some somber sources: a Facebook post that shared the news of the accidental overdose death of a high school classmate, followed by word that a fan Drew had been communicating with for years online was found dead from a substance-related suicide. Rockbiter refers to a creature mourning the loss of his friends in the ’80s film “The Neverending Story.”

“I played it off, now a record is playing over and over again/In my heart, now my hands/Just couldn’t hold onto my friends,” she sings. Drew’s husband Scott Morgan’s lapsteel guitar is all over this song and album, and there’s something about that sound that infuses the songs with almost a second voice and a layer of mystery.

Drew is a hospice worker, and her experiences lent themselves to the writing of “American Beauty,” a song that explores the end of someone’s life in a graceful way. “I’m on my knees with Hattie tonight praying to Jesus, won’t you come take Hattie dancing?” Drew continues: “Her ancient eyes sunken deep inside shine like diamonds in a waterfall.”

“Porcelain Doll” was born out of a telephone conversation Drew had with a woman she’s been friends with since kindergarten. Drew explained in an email: “She’s the kind of person who can put on a happy face, and I hadn’t realized how much she’d been struggling at the time. I was honored and slightly terrified, and the next day I sat down with the guitar and the whole thing just poured out.” The end result is a song that’s tender, hopeful and empowering. “Oh your mother always kept you like a porcelain doll, but you’ve shattered that glass case/And you, you love the thrill and you live for the chase/But you don’t always have to be strong.”

Drew wrote all the songs on “Rockbiter,” and plays electric and acoustic guitar. Along with lapsteel, Morgan plays bass on five tracks with Andrew Aikens on the other three. Shawn Boissonneault is on drums. The album was recorded and mixed in Drew and Morgan’s home studio. You can order it on Bandcamp, and find it on places like iTunes and Spotify. A short run of physical CDs will be available at some Bull Moose locations.

Jenny Lou Drew Album Release Show
9 p.m. Saturday. Portland House of Music, 25 Temple St., Portland, $8 in advance, $10 day of show, 21-plus. portlandhouseofmusic.com


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