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New Jersey singer-songwriter Pete Yorn continues to plug away

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Pete Yorn belongs to a certain echelon of singer-songwriter—think Jesse Malin, Bob Schneider or Ryan Adams. They're prolific, hard-touring and have a gift for synthesizing rock tropes in fetching ways. They write a lot of really pleasant music, and occasionally, craft an undeniable gem—something worth writing home (or at least blogging) about. Yorn writes more memorable songs than most, which has led to a steady if not spectacular career. This summer he released his fourth full-length studio album on a major label—not an insignificant achievement.

Over the course of those four records, this Jersey boy really has churned out a couple of great pop-rock songs. That very first single, "Life on a Chain," off his well-named debut Musicforthemorningafter, retains its hooky, nonchalant magic—and still manages to pop up in the occasional above-average romantic comedy. The record's other hit, "For Nancy," is even better, while ballads like "On Your Side" recall the magnetic angst of a half-remembered scene from Dawson's Creek—in a good way. More recently, the poignant elegy for Jeff Buckley, "Bandstand in the Sky," elevated his live double album Live from New Jersey, while Day I Forgot's "Turn of the Century" charmed with its heartbreaking central musing, "I wonder when this day will end / I wonder if we speak again."

Fans of Yorn's ballads will be more than satisfied with his latest, Back & Forth. Recorded in Omaha with Saddle Creek producer and Bright Eyes member Mike Mogis, the record's 10 songs strike a more melancholy, introspective pose. The heavily acoustic sounds add to the wistful vibe. At moments Yorn even veers dangerously close to adult-contemporary territory (coming soon to an episode of Grey's Anatomy near you...) where things get a bit less interesting, if still pleasant. Fortunately, there are some standouts: "Paradise Cove" has a slick little groove, and the lead single "Don't Wanna Cry" adopts a subtle Americana shuffle that might be the best indicator of the Omaha openness penetrating the Yankee's heart.

There is plenty of maturity and some well-crafted songs on Back & Forth, but it's hard not to miss the tautness of some of those earlier tunes—the clever momentum of "When You See the Light," the vintage thwack of "Closet" or the passive-aggressive sneer of "Long Way Down." Good thing there are few better opportunities to recapture the past than a career-spanning concert.

When it comes to the live show, Yorn has always been a workhorse. He cracks jokes and plays crowd-pleasing covers (expect Springsteen). Best of all, liberated from some of the studio polish, his songs—and his average-yet-effective vocal style—are a whole lot of fun.

There is a certain charm to working singer-songwriters like Yorn. They're the utility men of the music industry. They might not make the all-star team every year, but every once in a while they'll come up with a big play—a memorable tune, perfect for that breakup mix or midsummer road trip—and you're happy they're still around.

Email music@nashvillescene.com.

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