Kelly Hogan has always made smart, tasteful records. But “I Like to Keep Myself in Pain,” her first studio album in 11 years, smacks of being definitive — a consummate set of fraught relationship songs of the sort perfected by Jenny Lewis or Hogan’s sometime employer, Neko Case.
Or, for that matter, Shelby Lynne, especially given the convergence of country, soul and ’60s-bred pop on these 12 covers and one Hogan original.
The covers come courtesy of the singer’s musician admirers, including troubadour John Wesley Harding, erstwhile Soft Boy Robyn Hitchcock and the Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt.
Virtually every track is a standout, but Vic Chesnutt’s “Ways of This World” is a particularly ripe vehicle for Hogan’s humid alto, a foreboding ballad that recalls Bobbie Gentry at her high-cotton best. “We Can’t Have Nice Things,” an organ-steeped meditation on the ravages of domestic violence, likewise recalls Gentry, its smoky organ figures compliments of the great Booker T. Jones.
“Sleeper Awake” updates vintage Petula Clark by way of Motown, while M. Ward’s “Daddy’s Little Girl” is a dissolute note of apology written from the perspective of Frank Sinatra to his daughter Nancy.
“Golden,” the sole Hogan composition, is a heartfelt word of encouragement to Case. “I wanna hear your voice comin’ out of my radio / I wanna see your face on the billboard sign,” Hogan sings to a weary country-rock beat and emphatic electric guitar.
Much the same, given the wonders contained within this career high-water mark of a record, could be said of talent as undeniable as Hogan’s.
Recommended tracks: “Ways of This World,” “We Can’t Have Nice Things,” “Golden”