Anna Tivel opens her Paste Studio session the same way she begins her new album The Question, with its captivating title track. She immediately sets the scene with the words, "In my dream you were beautiful, backlit, noble / in the lowlight of the window you were leaning on the edge." My first reaction is to call this folk music, but, like so many of the wonderful sounds emerging from roots and Americana circles these days, it transcends that identification. Tivel's detail-oriented compositions reveal mini universes complete with their own complicated characters and storylines, each of which is embroidered with some distinct sonic embellishment—in the case of "Anthony" and "The Question," the exquisite strings arranged by multi-instrumentalist Shane Leonard. On the album version of kicker "Two Strangers" those strings are restrained, almost more special for their spareness. In the studio, however, Tivel opted to perform those three songs alone with her guitar, and it's not surprising they hold up in a solo acoustic setting. The Question is an album of daring, bold, complicated arrangements, but Tivel's lyrics are strong enough that they require no extra fuss. She writes a lot of songs while on the road, which would explain the diversity in content, and the aforementioned "Two Strangers" takes shape in the "city lights" of New York.