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Album Reviews

Laura Veirs - The Lookout

Laura Veirs – The Lookout

The unassuming, academia-leaning singer/songwriter didn't seriously start making music until her early 20s, and her career for the most part has been a slow burn affair, starting with the release of the very low key self-titled debut album at the tail end of the 20th century. Since then she has released eight studio albums, Veirs gradually accruing underground cult status, but never threatening the mainstream. That is, until she collaborated with k.d. lang and Neko Case for a self-titled album release a couple of years ago. It dented the Top 30, in the process presenting Veirs to new audiences.

So, as far as Veirs is concerned, The Lookout is perhaps a bigger deal than your average album release. Expectations have been raised a couple of notches, Veirs more in the spotlight than she has ever been. Thankfully, if unsurprisingly, what we get with The Lookout, is typical Veirs; light touch indie-folk-pop that is, in the main, gentle as a summer's breeze, aided by the presence of her long-time collaborator, producer and husband, Tucker Martine. It's what she has always sounded like throughout her career: her shy voice matched by her generally acoustic guitar playing on an album with an underlying concept or two. From the fragility of precious things (including herself, and her two young sons), to seeking the comfort of protection in an unsteady world ("It's about the importance of looking out for each other," she has said of the album), it is all delivered with typical sparseness and finesse. Moreover, nature and its enveloping presence and spirit is a guiding light for Veirs throughout.

However, The Lookout surprises in some ways. There is electronica dispersed here and there, plus some strings, and country tropes such as tasteful pedal steel, and the overall mood is a tad more sombre and dark, reflecting the turmoil of the Donald Trump era, as well as specific concerns as a mother and human. However, while she and Martine are throwing a lot at it, The Lookout remains steadfastly simple on the surface, but delicately nuanced, and generally remains warm in tone and sentiment. Such as on the pastoral folk of 'Margaret Sands', hints of Nick Drake within the atmospherics, and sound, an exploration of both womanhood, and parenthood.

'Seven Falls' is all 60s country-pop, some pedal steel liaising with double bass, while 'Mountains of the Moon' (a cover of a Grateful Dead track, no less) also feels vaguely 60s, a different take on baroque folk-pop and country coming together in an unlikely, but winning fashion, and a rare deviation from the deep warmth that exudes from Veirs music in general. Here, there is a slight haunting presence, accentuated by organ and electronics towards the end, but counteracted by her optimistic bearing: “It’s time to matter / The earth will see you on through this time,” she sweetly sings. 'The Meadow' is a rear-view look at a past love ("We knew it wouldn't last / It was beautiful"), and is similarly ghostly in ambience, the reverbed piano carrying the song for the most part, while simple folk-country informs the light yet dark 'The Canyon', and 'Heavy Petals' is spacious and dreamy despite the band effort here, including woodwind and some more pedal steel.

Elsewhere, electronic beats and production effects informs 'Everybody Needs You', while both acoustic and electric guitars keep things 'real', and both children's voices and an electronic beat underpin the magical 'Lightning Rod', a look at the awe-inspiring power of lightning. Then, in 'When It Grows Darkest', Veirs and co veer towards an anxious epic musicality, in line with the sombre tone of the sentiments.

Along with Martine, Veirs has drawn on the talents of Karl Blau, Steve Moore, Eyvind Kang, Sufjan Stevens and Jim James, the last two providing guest vocals, Sufjan lending a fragile falsetto to 'Watch Fire', one of the most immediately accessible tracks here thanks to its simple but strong melody, and subtle Arabic undertones.

To some ears, The Lookout could sound simplistic and underwhelming on first exposure but, like most of Veirs' work, it demands time and patience, whence the understated artistry reveals itself to be often sublime in quality, and as always, full to the brim of elegantly crafted songs.

Jeff Hemmings

Website: lauraveirs.com
Facebook: facebook.com/LauraVeirs
Twitter: twitter.com/lauraveirs

 

 


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