Aug 10, 8 p.m., The Stomping Ground, 132 Main St., Putnam, free.
Once you know that Brooklyn-based singer and songwriter Jennifer O'Connor spent her formative years in Connecticut, you start to think you hear hints of the state — the stoic New England scene, the solitude of winter — in many of her songs. "Between the church and the river" is the first line on her fine 2008 album Here With Me, which was released on the taste-making Matador label. That sounds like the Connecticut landscape many of us see on the ride home.
"I was born in Putnam, and I grew up in Danielson. I was there until I was 13," says O'Connor, who spoke by phone with the Advocate recently from New York. The tune "Valley Road 86" is about a road up there in that quiet northeast corner of the state. "I knew everybody in town. My brothers and sisters still live there."
The connection between O'Connor and the area will be even more clear when she plays a show in Putnam this week. It's bound to be, among other things, an event with many O'Connors present. Putnam isn't exactly known for live music, but The Stomping Ground reached out to O'Connor, knowing she was a hometown girl of sorts, and asked if she wanted to play. It's a free show.
O'Connor's music is mellow and pretty, but not exactly light and airy. She has a voice with flickers of husk and grit, and there's a sadness central to much of her material, particularly on her earlier records.
"I've written a lot about childhood and family," she says.
O'Connor had two sisters who died, and she's written about them — and their absence — quite a bit. That longing and that loss has colored her work.
"I think I naturally gravitate toward writing sadder things," says O'Connor. The music that comes from that is often lovely, poignant and mysterious. O'Connor's music will appeal to fans of Sam Phillips, Richard Buckner, "Losing My Religion"-era R.E.M. and other artists who point toward a stark emotional palette without somehow tipping into miserablism.
But O'Connor, 38, says she can feel herself moving into a slightly different place as a person and as a writer. You can hear it on her 2011 release I Want What You Want, which she released on her own Kiam Records label. She hasn't changed the sound. Slow tempos inch toward something with more drive. Mellow, pretty acoustic songs with the muscle of crisp guitar lines and solid workmanlike drum beats welling up underneath them. But there's a little less looming darkness.
"I think this newest record is sort of about that — moving into a different place. I'm not 100 percent sure what the next place is, but it feels different."
She's happier, she says, than she's been in a while. O'Connor has been taking some writing assignments for T.V. and film, which helps the process by providing a clear starting point. She also expects to have another record ready for release sometime in 2013.
"I'm probably not as sad as most people would think from listening to my music," she says.