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Album review: Dessa, 'Parts of Speech'

*** (out of four)

“I don’t want a walk,” Minnesota rapper/singer Dessa declares on “Fighting Fish,” “I’d rather swing and miss.” That song, a spitfire of head-nodding purpose, is one of the highlights of “Parts of Speech,” a record whose courage lies in Doomtree member Dessa’s determination to remain herself. She’s committed to stripped-down, heart-wrenching storytelling rather than beefing up aching narratives into party-starters. Personally, I think the piano ballads and tales of broken relationships tend to blend together, with the urgency of stuff like “Warsaw” and “Skeleton Key” rising above the familiarity of “Beekeeper.” (She can break you down with the beauty of simplicity, though, as on “It’s Only Me.”) “When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That [Bleep] Gold,” the brilliant 2008 effort from Dessa’s Minneapolis neighbors Atmosphere, more effectively finds middle ground in energy and sorrow. But Dessa and “Parts of Speech” still have plenty to say.

In concert: July 29 at Millennium Park

mpais@tribune.com, @redeyechimusic

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