What Suzanne Vega was to the East Coast--working at the intersection of folk and art songs--Laura Veirs has become to the Pacific Northwest. With organic imagery and a sense of open-eyed, open-hearted wonder, her songs seem to hover between the sea and the stars and to take inspiration from each. Though "To the Country" is the undisputed highlight here, featuring a luminous call-and-response with the Cedar Hill Choir and guest guitar from Bill Frisell, Veirs extends her range from the soul groove of the title track (which is also now the name of her band, formerly the Tortured Souls) to the propulsive rock of "Phantom Mountain." Even when her material flirts with preciousness ("Nightingale") or conforms more to folk convention, the musical settings entrance. --Don McLeese
There she is, all nerdy and serious-looking in her trademark specs, peering up at you as if any second now she might tell you off for letting yourself go, like that TV presenter who scares women into looking ten years younger. Daughter of a physicist and environmentalist who lived an outdoors life growing up in Colorado and is now based in Portland, Oregon, she has a serious and intelligent air about her; a singer-songwriter who finds her inspiration through literature and the natural world rather than the musical output of her peers.
And maybe this helps with the creative flow of her music, which snakes between indie rock, folk and country, instead of being shaped too strictly by any one genre.
Veirs' literate, melodic and often haunting music first came to attention in 2000 when she was signed to former Cocteau Twin Simon Raymonde's Bella Union label; nowadays she can be found on Nonesuch, along with innovators such as Ry Cooder and jazz guitarist and mentor Bill Frisell.
Each album deals loosely with a different force of nature - Fire (Trouble With Fire), Water (Carbon Glacier), Air (Year Of Meteors) and Earth (The Triumphs and Travails Of Orphan Mae) - and with Saltbreakers the sea is the inspiration. With the title meaning 'waves' and being a metaphor for tears, you can expect a fair bit of poetic imagery - swimming with blossom, watching the heavenly stars twinkle, a woman getting seduced by a merman or smelling 'the scent of the moon' in 'Don't Lose Yourself', a song inspired by the magic realism of Jose Saramago's novel Blindness.
Longtime fans will be note that she hasn't lost the typically direct habit of launching straight into her songs without much introduction, and a return of the fuzzy electric guitar found on Carbon Glacier. Album highlight 'To The Country' is much gentler than this. A gospel choir adds extra warmth, and extra poignancy comes from the knowledge that it was recorded in Johnny and June Carter Cash's cabin in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Just feel them ghosts - they certainly wouldn't have passed Veirs by... --Sue Keogh
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