First Appeared in The Music Box, May 2007, Volume 14, #5
Written by Douglas Heselgrave
Sun May 13, 2007, 06:00 AM CDT
Saltbreakers, the latest outing from Pacific Northwest recording artist Laura Veirs, continues in much the same fashion as her previous two releases Year of Meteors and Carbon Glacier. Essentially a singer-songwriter in the traditional sense, Veirs has distinguished herself from her peers by adeptly elevating her voice and acoustic guitar over a textured bed of electronic atmospherics. By blending sounds that usually are heard accompanying folk music with techno beats, she has found the perfect melodic backdrop for her lyrics the imagery of which seems, at once, to be both wistfully nostalgic and optimistically futuristic. Within her works, tales of shipwrecks, pirates, and bodice-ripping adventure jostle impressively alongside meteorites, galaxies, and the far reaches of space, and the worlds that she creates are often wonderful places to stop for a visit. The contemplative creativity contained in many of her compositions invites her fans to discover a universe imagined or remembered where the angular futurism of the Jetsons intersects with the open-seas swashbuckling of Robert Louis Stevenson.
For the first three or four songs on Saltbreakers, this formula works beautifully. The selections bounce along, and the listener is drawn into a world of delightful melody and spellbinding imagery. Then, the formula suddenly becomes tired. Veirs switches lyrical tacks and begins singing about the more serious subjects of love, personal politics, and disappointment, though she also keeps the same musical approach pulsing beneath her words. With lyrics that are so literate and engaging full of humor, irony, and emotional depth the songs demand a musical accompaniment that lifts and complements their subject matter. Although the arrangements are interesting, they too often sound identical, and they begin quite noticeably to grate against the stories they are coloring. They need more depth and sophistication without becoming dirge-like or dour in order to fulfill their purpose. One wants Veirs to branch out, take risks, and reach beyond the formula that has been so successful for her. Jazz artist Bill Frisell plays guitar on To the Country, and although hes not utilized to tremendous effect (because he seems content simply to strum along with the dominant melody), some new textures are, at least, introduced. On the same track, the Cedar Hill Choir adds some much needed substance to the vocals, providing proof that some musical exploration is taking shape.
Laura Veirs is obviously an intelligent young woman who cares a lot about her music. Its apparent that she is trying to present her songs in a unique way that reflects her aesthetic tastes and her world view. In that sense, she has done a lot of growing over her last three albums. The alchemy of her acoustic and electronic synthesis has created some very intriguing and worthwhile atmospheres, but as time passes, her continued adherence to this sonic brew puts her compositions in jeopardy of sounding dated. Still from the wonderful artwork and the lovely packaging to the singing, playing, and production the care and attention that clearly have gone into the creation of Saltbreakers and all of her outings, for that matter reveal an artist who is too aware and too involved to fall into these traps. Her many fans can only hope that she takes up the challenge and builds on her obvious talent when she next steps out onto a musical limb and begins, once again, to wrangle with her muse. While Saltbreakers can in no way be classified as an artistic failure, it is a disc in which the composer seems content to explore familiar territory. As a result, the listener is left, on occasion, with the impression that she is still waiting for another musical epiphany to strike. One can only hope that it comes soon and that Veirs will go further on her future endeavors. She needs to break new ground and challenge her audience in the ways in which it has become accustomed. ½
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2007 The Music Box