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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

The surefire measure of a great pop song is often the hook. That's the refrain that's easy to sing and impossible to forget. Critic Tom Moon says he's found a new singer-songwriter who's a master of the pop hook.

TOM MOON: Meet Tristen Gaspadarek. She records under the name Tristen. She's 28, still holds a day job waiting tables in Nashville. She says she's obsessed with melody.

(Soundbite of music)

TRISTEN (Singer, Songwriter): (Singing) (Unintelligible).

MOON: Tristen describes herself as a pop traditionalist, and she has a theory about current songwriting. She believes people spend too much time crafting cool atmospheres and not enough time creating straightforward, singable lines.

When she moved to Nashville to start her professional career, she undertook a fairly systematic study of hit songs from the '60s and early '70s. She focused on the melodies and the way certain phrases become instantly memorable.

(Soundbite of music)

TRISTEN: (Singing) Show me how your daddy and your momma made you. (Unintelligible).

MOON: Sometimes Tristen's hooks whip the songs into a giddy, exuberant frenzy. But she's got a pensive side, too. She's comfortable with the bittersweet tones that '70s pop singer and songwriter Harry Nilsson knew so well.

(Soundbite of music)

TRISTEN: (Singing) I am not a master of the (Unintelligible). Through my foggy window, protected by a screen. (Unintelligible).

MOON: The writing is sharp throughout, but that's not all. Tristen approaches each tune with the mindset of a character actor, changing her voice and inflection to bring out nuances of mood.

On her song "Baby Drugs," she uses a smoky, almost weary voice to underscore the struggles of living with an addict.

(Soundbite of music)

TRISTEN: (Singing) I know you only do it when you're lonely. And when I'm not around (Unintelligible).

MOON: Nowadays it's really, really hard to come up with a fresh take on the pop hook. Tristen seems to have done that. There's some scholarship involved, for sure. But the more I listen to this sparkling, wonderfully streamlined record, the more I realize that not everything about the killer hook can be learned. Part of it comes under the heading of pure inspiration. And this album has plenty of that.

(Soundbite of music)

TRISTEN: (Singing) Don't believe that it's a curse, don't believe it's so much worse.

NORRIS: The new album from Tristen is called "Charlatans at the Garden Gate." Our reviewer is Tom Moon.

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