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|A Lot with a Little: Laura Veirs, March 1 at Huckleberry’s|
|Music - Feature Stories|
|Written by Jeff Ignatius|
|Wednesday, 24 February 2010 09:40|
The leanness of singer/songwriter Laura Veirs' new album, July Flame, was born of considerations both practical and artistic.
On the logistical side, her band "fell apart" since she moved to Portland, Oregon, she said in a phone interview this week. So one goal with this set of songs was "getting back to the root of just a guitar and a voice and seeing what I could do with that again."
Her last album -- 2007's Saltbreakers -- was "really heavily dependent on everybody else being there for the songs to work," she said. Crafting tunes that could be performed in a solo setting meant she could tour the album on the cheap, and with a band if she had the money. (When she plays her Daytrotter.com show on Monday at Huckleberry's in Rock Island, she'll be bringing her band.)
But on an artistic level, "I really like sparse music that still hits you in the gut and does a lot with a little."
July Flame certainly has that type of impact. It debuted last month at the top of Billboard's folk and Heatseekers charts, and it has received typically favorable reviews. "July Flame is a feel-good record of the oddest sort, a melancholy meditation on happiness and its delicate transience," Paste said of Veirs' seventh studio album. It added that the recording is "carefully composed, ever-deepening, glinting, and glowing in new ways each time it's played; there's an inkling of something greater coming just around the bend, but for now it's Veirs' finest work."
The austere quality of July Flame in no way precludes aural detail; the careful arrangements and textures are rich and expressive. The crows heard (barely) on "Sleeper in the Valley" lend the song a perfect autumn chill. The piano of "Little Deschutes" starts reserved and sad but is drawn out a bit by winsome vocals and keyboards and a confident electric guitar. Whale-call strings give "Wide-Eyed, Legless" an otherworldly feel.
There's a greater weight given to every element of each song, and Veirs said that's a function of a new approach to songwriting. Her band-oriented records grew from "being really tight with that band," she said, but that sometimes resulted in player-oriented writing, "not thinking in terms of a song as much as 'What can we do with these instruments that we have at our disposal, and these great players?'"
With an eye toward solo performance, she said, she wrote more songs than usual for July Flame, and put extra effort into them. She's always paid particular attention to her finger-picked guitar, but she knew it had a greater responsibility this time around. "Most of the songs on this record hold a lot of interest in the guitar parts," she said, "and so it was extra work for me to make that happen. ... Before, I was not thinking in terms of 'How can you hold this up on your own for the course of three minutes?'"
After three albums released by Nonesuch, Veirs chose to release July Flame on her own label. She said she was initially annoyed that labels weren't excited about July Flame when she was shopping it around. "There wasn't this overwhelming enthusiasm from anybody," she said. "I felt a little bit disappointed. I think this is a good record. A couple good labels said, 'This is great but we won't know how to sell it.' This album's outsold the last one already in one month. It's a sale-able product. People like it. ... I could sense from the reactions of friends and family that this was a record that was going to appeal to people."
But self-releasing the album has been freeing. "I don't feel beholden to anyone," she said. "It's not like, 'Oh God, I've got to impress the label people so that they'll keep me on.' You have to do a good show because you actually like playing music and this is why these people came to see you. ... In that sense I'm more relaxed as well."
That has lined up with pregnancy -- her child is due in mid-April -- and the perspective it has lent to her music. The stage fright that's plagued her, she said, is gone. Being pregnant "allows me to care less in a good way ... . I'm not as nervous. I know that there are other things in my life than music."
For more information on Laura Veirs, visit LauraVeirs.com.
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