published: 13 /
In the latest in his 'Condemned to Rock 'n' Roll' column Ben Howarth writes about the uniqueness of Seattle-based singer-songwriter Laura Veirs
Like almost all music fans, I expect, I own hundreds of albums that I quite like, all of which I would recommend now, if only I had the time. But, I never feel I have quite enough albums that leave you both speechless and desperate to tell everyone about them.
I suppose at the back of the mind of every young songwriter is the hope that their music will find an adoring audience and be the soundtrack to people’s lives for years to come. But too few seem prepared to take the risk needed to make it happen. When they agonise over their songs in the studio, are they worrying about whether their audience will want to hear it again and again, or just whether their local radio station will want to play it again and again?
The first few months of this year always bring these kind of questions into sharper focus. As the latest parade of up-and-comers is bundled in front of us, I’m generally disappointed by the lack of evidence that they are on a quest to make the next great record and depressed by the raft of evidence that their only quest is to win the critics-choice at a marketing bash.
Luckily, I’ve learned over time to write most of these people off and concentrate on the minority whose main ambition is to let us listen in as they search for something special. And, even more luckily, I’ve now nailed down a select few who seem to understand, instinctively, exactly what I’m looking for when I buy a new CD.
This meant that I didn’t have to read a single review of Laura Veirs album before I rushed out to buy it, that I also picked up the new Four Tet album at the same time and that I updated my Dinosaur Jr back catalogue in the same trip. And, less importantly, it has left me without any time to wonder whether Florence and the Machine really deserved her Brit award.
An old friend of this column, Laura Veirs, released her new album in January. She has been making albums full of lovely folk songs for over a decade now - and her beautiful use of geological imagery has made her songwriting style uniquely wonderful throughout that time. But on her last album (‘Saltbreakers’, 2007) her music seemed to become fresher, livelier and more melodic.
On the surface, ‘July Flame’ is more pared down and less diverse. But, in fact, it has the same qualities as its predecessor - they just take a little longer to realise themselves. These songs are subtle gems; lyrical and melodic twists pop out at you over repeat listens and the album gently pushes its way into your head, until you find yourself humming bits of each song at entirely random moments.
I am almost surprised that Veirs has not received more critical kudos. I suspect she has missed out because her music adopts an unusually optimistic tone, and music critics rarely acknowledge the gifts of anyone not audibly on the edge of a nervous breakdown. In fact, there is a melancholic quality to her music, but it is the kind of eerie sadness one associates with a secluded spot in the untamed countryside, not personal trauma. She has clearly taken a look at the world around her, and found a way to admire what she sees.
A spell on major label Nonesuch didn’t appear to yield the commercial returns she might have hoped for, meaning that ’July Flame’ was released by her old indie label, Bella Union. Despite this, she has now recorded a series of four excellent albums. Veirs must know that she is now on the verge of something really special and I can’t wait to hear what she comes up with next.