She's another gifted Americana musician who calls Austin, Minn., her hometown (see: Gear Daddies, Charlie Parr). She's another evocative songwriter whose conservative Christian upbringing belies her pilgrimage into secular rock clubs (Low, Jeremy Messersmith, Zoo Animal's Holly Newsom). And she's yet another local musician who raised money for a new album via (just about every indie music act of late).

There's not a whole lot to set Bethany Larson apart except she's damn talented.

A rising star who started gigging five years ago, Larson, 26, still qualifies as a newcomer since she took a two-year hiatus from music along the way. The long break was brought on by heartbreak -- a romantic split that predictably and thankfully showed up in her songs once she started performing again.

"I just didn't feel like playing music all that time," Larson recalled. "Then it became the one big void in my life."

Playing music should be unavoidable from here on out for Larson with the release of "When We Reach the City," the debut album with her band the Bee's Knees. Named after a line in Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" (a reference to heaven), the record lands with a party Friday at the Kitty Cat Klub.

The album comes off like Bon Iver's "For Emma, Forever Ago" if it had been recorded in a sunny urban garden over the summer instead of a dark hunting cabin in winter. Throughout the disc, Larson struggles to get past a fella but finds strength along the way. Musically, her high-wavering voice recalls Roma Di Luna's Channy Moon Caselle, while her atmospheric twang-rock shows traces of Neko Case and the Jayhawks.

Larson's hung-up state is evident in the opening "Still," in which she sings around a bouncy, fuzzy guitar: "Part of me wants to disappear / Part of me wants to die right here / Part of me wants to tell you that you can never come back."

Larson didn't just pick up a guitar a couple years ago. She grew up with a Baptist minister for a father and a musical family that included three older brothers (one of whom, Chris Larson, sings backup with the Bee's Knees). You can hear the gospel music influence in the rocky dirge "The Devil Is on His Way" and "The Heavens Remain," one of the disc's more elegant tracks. There's also a redemptive quality in the slow, organ-lightened closing tune, "We'll Be Alright."

"We went to church about five days a week," said Larson, who attended Northwestern, the Christian college in Roseville. She now describes her religious views as, "I believe things happen for a reason, but that's about it."

At least that's enough to summarize the uplifting tone on her otherwise sad album.

Random mix

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