Veirs returns to the fingerpicking folk milieu that characterised her early records.
David Sheppard 2010-01-05
Back on independent imprint Bella Union after a lengthy sojourn with Warner’s subsidiary, Nonesuch, Colorado-born chanteuse Laura Veirs has been making all sorts of changes since the release of her last longplayer, 2007’s Saltbreakers. They include relocating to a new city (Portland, Oregon), setting up home with her long-time producer, Tucker Martine, and severing ties with her Seattle-based backing band. Indeed, the new album offers an airy, bucolic, for the most part drum-less, sound, effectively returning Veirs to the fingerpicking folk milieu (albeit a deluxe, widescreen version thereof) that characterised her early records.
Named after a variety of peach, Veirs’ seventh album is aptly named, its mood erring toward the ripe and summery, the stripped-back arrangements leaving plenty of spaces for her crystalline-as-mountain-air vocals to swoop and glide. The erstwhile geologist and inveterate nature lover is still packing her songs with floral, orological and riverine metaphors, but July Flame also finds her exploring new, more direct lyrical avenues, like the unabashed romanticism of When You Give Your Heart or the unequivocal Carole Kaye – an ingenuous homage to the titular ‘Wrecking Crew’ session bassist.
The remainder of the album’s 13 songs unfurl with unhurried serenity, the parameters described by the country-flecked Sun is King and the lyrically obtuse Silo Song, beautifully decorated with Stephen Barber’s string arrangement. The chorally suffused I Can See Your Tracks, meanwhile, seems to have borrowed its numinous descants from label-mates and fellow North-Westerners, Fleet Foxes.
Things grow musically darker on Little Deschutes, a paean to Veirs’ new life in the eponymous Oregon county. While its glowering electric guitars and Stygian strings threaten like approaching thunderclouds, Veirs’ lyrics offer a contrasting note of lovelorn surrender: “Sure is hard to dance across the room / When you've got one foot on the floor and one foot outside the door / I want nothing more than to dance with you.”
Make Something Good, a rasping, piano and strings-ornamented duet with My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, closes out the record. It sounds like both an affirmation and a mission statement and encourages the happy thought that the best of Laura Veirs may still be to come.