[21 June 2012]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
In light of the reissue of her work with punk outfit the Avengers, to hear the soulful folk-rock of On Market Street is to wonder if this is the same Penelope Houston. This is an album Houston has been building up to for seven years and yet, despite its languid, lush textures, it feels fresh. The opening love song “All the Way” is as sweet and guileless as love songs go, even when she slides in how she “just wants to crush you.” The more shadowy folk of the title track shows a more spacious turn on her song, and you can feel Houston’s connection to the titular place in her attention to detail and her care for the cast of characters that walk the street. These are songs that take their time and make their mark. From the big, swampy rock of “Come Back to the Fountain” to the playful power-pop of closer “USSA”, Houston proves herself still a varied and strong songwriter, while the band behind her—and the crisp production from Houston and co-producer Jeffrey Wood—has the same kind of vital shapeshifting ability. The album can misstep—“Winter Coats” gets bogged down in a mid-tempo overcast vibe, while “Missouri Lounge” is a bit too sleek for its own good—but overall On Market Street is an interesting counterpoint to Houston’s output with the Avengers. This is a far cry from punk rock, but there’s still an energy that undergirds all this, that makes these “grown-up” songs still surge with a youthful charge.