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In Run On, Sue Garner works with two other songwriters. But even as artistically successful as that band is, creative democracies are a big pain in the ass. I say give me some of that good old fascist ingenuity, and Garner seems to agree. On her solo debut, the revealingly titled To Run More Smoothly, Garner sings and plays guitar, bass, percussion, samples, and organ, and even does the booklet design. She gets to indulge her dark pop leanings without always having to conform to the more avant-gardist arrangements Run On favors. Garner is joined by a fancy-pants cast of past and present indie rockers, including ex-dB’s guitarist Chris Stamey, who co-produced the record with Garner, and Yo La Tengo drummer Georgia Hubley, as well as her Run On cohorts Katie Gentile and Rick Brown. Garner’s husky voice is quietly seductive, like Mary Margaret O’Hara’s minus the dramatics. Garner in fact takes many of her cues from the elusive Canadian songwriter (whose lone album, Miss America, is a semiforgotten classic), covering O’Hara’s “Dear Darling.” Garner’s voice is especially moving on “Nightfall”; over a twangy, tremoloed guitar, she melts the words “Nothing is better than the evening/When the sun finally goes down/’Cause the night’s finally coming around/Nothing is better,” making a banal observance poetically poignant. The two songs Garner co-wrote with Brown (who is also her husband) sound like Run On tracks: Both “Intuition” and “Sense Enough” are quirky and heavily rhythmic. But Garner’s at her best on the straighter, folkier songs that allow her to fully express her vocal range. And full expression is what a solo record is all about.
Sue Garner plays Iota Feb. 15 with Freakwater.