Review by Mike O’Cull, independent music journalist.

Chicago-based poet and songwriter Jill M. Stone has a gift for direct communication. Her songs sound deceptively simple at first but her words and moods convey complex human truths and experiences with plain-spoken genius, like a trusted friend whispering her story into your ear. Her new record, Taught, builds on the style her first release, No Cure For Loneliness, foreshadowed but Stone is bolder and more confident on these sessions and watching her expand and grow is a beautiful thing.

Stone’s songs live somewhere between indie rock and urban folk and tend to tell stories of life’s more difficult moments and the lingering fallout those moments leave behind. The title track “Taught” is plaintive and spare, detailing some harsh but wisdom-imparting truths over a gentle funk groove. Stone lays herself bare emotionally and musically with a brave authenticity that sets the tone for the rest of this impressive set. “Hymn to Another Day” is a strikingly somber look at a life stuck in an endless loop of adult living and invokes a spiritual theme Stone returns to regularly on Taught. Her characters speak of life bounded by the sky above and the mud below and seem to yearn for a larger connection. This is especially true on “The Congregation,” where souls seek redemption on “the remains of a dance floor.” The track drips with the surreal madness of Rain Dogs-era Tom Waits and is one of the best songs here.

Jill M. Stone is a fairly new face on Chicago’s musical landscape. Her emphasis on artistry and emotional impact is a welcome respite, however, from the hoards of vanilla singer/songwriters and their beige wallpaper records with which this town is overrun. Taught is strong black coffee on an introspective hangover day in the rain. It’s a substantial effort that shows the best music still doesn’t sound like a beer commercial. Deep, dark, and cathartic, Taught delivers a take-it-or-leave-it realness that is seductive and compelling. Buy it today.